In new polling focused primarily on healthcare, Washington Post-ABC asked the following question:

Which political party, the (Democrats) or the (Republicans), do you trust to do a better job handling (ITEM)?

Here are the results:

  Democrats Republicans
The Economy 44 36
Health Care 47 34
Immigration Issues 38 35
The Situation in Afghanistan 43 33
The Federal Budget Deficit 43 35
Taxes 41 39
The U.S. Campaign Against Terrorism 37 43
Energy Policy 49 32

It looks like despite the tea parties, the stimulus, the media’s obsession with process, and the so-called ‘government takeover of health care,’ Democrats are still more trusted than Republicans on seven of eight top issues.

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Of particular interest, Democrats hold the widest trust advantage (17 percent) on energy policy, followed by health care (13 percent), Afghanistan (10 percent) and the economy (8 percent). This finding echoes the results of recent Pew polling which found that clean energy and mass transit investments are far more popular among the American public than nuclear investments and expanded offshore drilling. All of this strikes me as a pretty strong indictment of the Republican approach to energy policy, given the miles of separation between the parties on the issue. While Democrats support investing in clean energy technologies and implementing a strategy to reduce global warming pollution, most Republicans oppose such a strategy and are increasingly confused about the science. At the same time, beltway prognosticators continue celebrating the death of comprehensive climate legislation, despite its consistent popularity.

In light of the huge trust and polling advantage Democrats hold on the issue, you would expect them to forge ahead on their popular policy proposals despite Republican opposition. But that is not how things have played out over the past six months. In November, Democrats moved a bill through the Environment and Public Works Committee despite unprecedented obstructionism and unanimous Republican opposition. By the time the bill was passed through committee though, Democrats had already decided to scrap that bill, opting instead to place their hopes in a tri-partisan approach led by Senators Kerry (D-Mass.), Graham (R-S.C.) and Lieberman (I-Conn.).

What followed has amounted to a months-long campaign of lowered expectations and concessions to industry. Sen. Graham has taken every opportunity possible to downplay a comprehensive approach and emphasize how far from previous Democratic proposals the forthcoming legislation would be. In February, President Obama played up pro-polluter ideas favored by Republicans in his State of the Union address. Rather than negotiating with Republican Senators, Sens. Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman actually resorted to working with climate change denying industry groups to craft legislation that might attract 60 votes.

The idea behind all of this movement toward a more Republican friendly (read: less effective) approach to addressing climate/energy policy is that if the bill is polluter-friendly enough, it may be able to attract 60 votes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be working. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), who is widely considered one of the more ‘gettable’ Republicans on the issue, continues suggesting Senator Kerry’s efforts be bypassed. And Senator Graham, when he isn’t using disingenuous process complaints to downplay expectations, made it clear on Sunday that he has no interest in being the 60th vote for a climate bill. As of this writing, no Republicans other than Graham have expressed serious support for the effort.

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Meanwhile, all of these efforts to attract industry and Republican support are weakening enthusiasm for the effort on the left. Tellingly, when President Obama made the case for increased investments in nuclear power and expanded offshore drilling, Move On found it to be the least popular part of his SOTU, among their liberal membership.

Over the past 10 days, a variety environmentalist groups and liberal Senators have begun to publicly criticize the yet-to-be-released legislation as it takes shape. Here are a few examples:

  • 10 coastal state Senators sent a letter last week to Senators Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman, warning that they cannot support legislation that greatly expands offshore oil and gas drilling.
  • Environmental group 1Sky is imploring Senators Kerry and Reid: Don’t let big polluters rewrite the Clean Air Act.
  • Senator Sanders sent a letter Friday to Senator Kerry, citing serious concerns about a variety of polluter-friendly provisions.
  • Erich Pica, President of environmental group Friends of the Earth, told Greenwire, “We’re worried they’re the first ones in the room to get a briefing.”
  • Mike Brune, the new Executive Director of mainstream environmental group the Sierra Club, expressed a variety of concerns last week: “We will go to the mat for defending Clean Air Act authority. We are also concerned about offshore oil drilling, and we will not be able to accept the dramatic giveaway that offshore oil drilling represents.”

Senator Lieberman last week brushed off concerns that the bill may lose support from the left, saying “In the end this will be one of those cases where everybody will be a little unhappy.” The groups and Senators listed above seem more than a little unhappy to me.

Senators Kerry, Graham and Lieberman would be wise to keep an eye on their left flank. Weakening the legislation in an attempt to gain industry/republican support will cost them the support of some liberal Senators and environmental groups. And it may do so without even winning them the support of an equal number of conservative Senators. Worse yet, given the new polling showing that Democrats are more trusted than Republicans on energy policy, further concessions to Republicans would likely weaken support for the bill among the American public. Democrats should be emboldened by this polling data, and should take it as a sign that crafting polluter-friendly policies to try to gain the support of Republicans is a losing strategy, both in terms of policy and politics.

Originally published at EnviroKnow