Pollsters aren’t asking the right questions about energy issues
There’s more to this article than the headline, but the headline alone says quite a bit: "Poll: 8 in 10 want drivers to drop SUVs." That’s another tentative — though possibly shallow — sign that high gas prices are turning Americans against their gas guzzlers. Of course, since SUVs, trucks, and minivans have commanded roughly half of the new-vehicle market in recent years, one wonders if this means that 3 in 10 people want other drivers to drop their low-mileage vehicles.
Other poll responses are equally telling. Seven out of 10 respondents want the government to fight rising gasoline bills by establishing price controls. Of course, holding down prices makes us consume more gas than we otherwise would. Plus, in a world of limited petroleum supplies, price controls could lead to all sorts of other problems — shortages, rationing, etc. (As The Washington Post‘s Robert Samuelson reminds us, Cheap Gas Is a Bad Habit.)
Seven out of 10 also support new government spending on transit. But almost six in 10 now think it’s more important to explore for new sources of energy than to protect the environment; and five in 10 favor opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas development, up from just 42 percent earlier in the year.
The obvious result of a poll like this is that consumers are just screaming for something — anything — that might bring gas prices down. And mostly they’re looking for solutions that involve government subsidies (for energy companies, transit, and gas consumers) or for sacrifices by someone else. That’s not surprising.
But what’s all-too-clear from polls like this is that solutions that could really ramp up fuel efficiency and curtail consumption over the long term — think feebates, or fighting sprawl, or paying for car insurance by the mile — really aren’t on the political landscape. And that’s probably because politicians (and pollsters) simply don’t talk about them. Which seems odd. After all, they’re no more infeasible than, say, expecting the powers-that-be to cut into oil industry profits by capping the price of gasoline.
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