New polling from Rasmussen confirms current D.C. scuttlebutt: Republicans are winning on energy.
The reason can be boiled down to this: Voters overwhelmingly want prices brought down, they’re convinced that increasing supply is the way to do that, and Republicans are the ones most vocally calling for increased supply.
There’s lots in recent survey results to mull over, but the most important is this, the central truth of energy politics in the U.S.:
By substantial margins, voters believe that the Republican candidate’s top priority is finding new sources of energy while his Democratic opponent is more focused on reducing the amount of energy we consume. Yet a separate survey found that for nearly two-thirds (65%), finding new sources of energy is more important that reducing the amount of energy Americans now use.
This is bedrock. American energy policy has had an extreme supply-side bias for a long, long time, and that’s the language that dominates energy politics. Republicans embrace and reinforce it. Some Democrats, some of the time, in relatively ineffectual ways, try to push back against it. Other Democrats, some of the time, in relatively ineffectual ways, reinforce it. They hedge.
As a result, Dems have convinced the public that supply is not their priority. What they haven’t done is make the positive case that efficiency and conservation are better strategies — smarter, better for national security, more conducive to economic growth, more likely to lower total costs for consumers, etc. Consequently, public trust is swinging toward McCain on the issue.
If the public is convinced that supply is key, there’s no way to avoid results like these: 64% in favor of offshore drilling (only 20% opposed), and 55% in favor of new nuclear plants (32% opposed). After all, these questions are tantamount to asking: do you want more energy? Of course you do!
Now, as former Gallup pollster David Moore has been pointing out, these surveys do not measure intensity of voter opinion. He thinks support for drilling is soft, and that the public would just as soon support renewables. I suspect that’s true; given the choice between two new supply sources, respondents will favor the shiny new green ones.
But I also suspect — though as far as I know nobody’s measured it — that the intensity of voter support for supply is generally high, and intensity of support for demand reduction, to the extent there is any, is low. I doubt all that many voters oppose demand-focused responses, they just don’t understand them, don’t know what to make of them, and don’t think they’ll achieve the goal, which is lowering prices. They are marginal to voters.
This is the state of play, party affiliation wise:
Democrats are more divided than Republicans on which is more important. While 57% of Democrats say finding new sources should be the priority, 36% believe that about reducing energy use. By contrast, Republicans lean far more heavily toward finding new energy sources 79% to 15%.
Among unaffiliated voters, 61% say finding new sources is more important, while 31% believe it is more essential to reduce the amount of energy Americans now use.
It’s noteworthy that independents are closer to Dems than Republicans on this, but all three groups favor supply.
That’s not shocking. People get supply. It’s intuitive. Prices are high for stuff? Get more stuff! If Dems want to educate voters about the benefits of efficiency and conservation, they’re going to have to stand behind that strategy and really make the case. That’s hard to do when you’re hedging and fudging about the SPR, "use it or lose it," etc.
It’s a big gamble, and I suspect most Dems would be much more willing to take it after the election. But the ongoing energy battle is cementing the frames and hardening the battle lines. It’s going to be hard to undo what’s being done right now.