A Hart Research Associates poll commissioned earlier this month attempts to identify the messaging on gas prices that best resonates with Americans. The polling memo identifies four policies that “voters most believe can help a lot with addressing gas prices:”
- American Oil for American Soil. Require oil companies to use the oil that is produced in the United States from public lands and offshore to meet energy needs here at home, and stop oil companies from exporting oil from our public lands and waters to overseas markets. (60 percent)
- End Oil Subsidies. Repeal the four billion dollars per year in federal subsidies that currently are given to the oil companies, and use that money instead to fund investments that will make us less dependent on oil. (55 percent)
- Crack Down On Excessive Speculation. Tighter oversight and regulation of Wall Street speculators to prevent them from artificially driving up the price of gasoline. (54 percent)
- More Fuel Efficient Cars and Trucks. Increase fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks, so they get more miles per gallon and consumers will save on their gasoline costs. (49 percent)
Michael Levi, writing at his Council on Foreign Relations blog, takes issue with the findings. Looking at the four policies individually, he writes that “the only genuinely powerful proposal among the four that the poll flags is the fourth: increasing fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks.” Levi then goes on to lament the implications:
This is all deeply dismaying. People say that they want lower gas prices, and of course, I don’t doubt that that’s true. But they don’t seem all that interested in pursuing policies that might deliver them – instead, they seem more interested in gimmicks and distractions. Perhaps Americans don’t really want lower gas prices after all.
A few points on this.
The intent of the Hart Research Associates polling memo, as laid out in the introduction, was to identify messaging that will help progressives “win the gas price message war.” The intent wasn’t to identify policies that will actually help reduce gas prices.
And as Levi points out, “economic fundamentals, along with fear of conflict over Iran, are the big culprits today.” These culprits aren’t things that can be addressed in the short term by either the White House or Congress.
But the fact is, gas prices are a contentious issue when they are high, and that is especially true during election years. Both political parties are perfectly glad to propose “solutions” to the problem that do more to “win the gas price message war” than they do to actually lower gas prices.
For Democrats, this includes items like some of those above. For Republicans, policy ideas seem to be pretty much limited to efforts to increase domestic drilling, which countless studies have shown would do very little to reduce pain at the pump.
On balance, I think the evidence is pretty clear that Democrats’ ideas, which include both supply and demand side measures, are a more serious attempt to actually bring gas prices down. But again, it isn’t as if either party has tools at its disposal that can bring gas prices down significantly in the short term. This country’s high dependency on oil, and the economic, environmental and national security issues that come with it, is a long term problem that requires long term solutions.
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