Americans haven’t reached a consensus on what is causing the recent spike in energy prices or what to do about it, according to the latest edition of the United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll.
There is no majority—only pluralities—agreeing on what’s causing the pain at the gas pump, according to the poll, which measures public attitudes toward issues facing Congress. And within those pluralities, divisions of class, race, and political affiliation were gaping.
When asked what is most responsible for rising gasoline costs, 38 percent chalked it up to “the manipulation of prices by large energy companies.” A less conspiratorial explanation—“tension in the Middle East, particularly over Iran and nuclear weapons”—was cited by 28 percent of respondents. A full 14 percent of respondents thought “the policies of President Obama” were to blame, while a much smaller number, 5 percent, blamed “the policies of congressional Republicans.” Perhaps not surprisingly, there was a partisan divide on the answers, with 31 percent of Republicans citing Obama policies as the main reason for the spiraling gas prices.
The country’s racial divide was reflected in another energy question, this having to do with the approaches of the two parties toward energy policy. Respondents were asked what would do more to lower fuel prices—the GOP emphasis on domestic production of oil and gas, or the Democratic emphasis on conservation and alternative fuels such as wind and solar. Black non-Hispanics by a greater than 2-to-1 margin favored the Democratic approach, while white non-Hispanics went with the GOP policies by a slim margin, 48 percent to 45 percent. Age also proved to be an important cleavage: Young respondents, 18 to 29, favored the Democratic approach by a 2-to-1 margin, while among those over 65, the Republican approach was favored 52 percent to 38 percent.
The poll showed 44 percent of respondents placing more trust in President Obama than congressional Republicans to make the right decisions to lower gasoline prices. The GOP was favored by 32 percent. How that answer broke down by subgroups—gender, age, race, and income—suggests some of the contours of the upcoming congressional and presidential elections. Nonwhite Hispanics backed Obama by a whopping 86 percent to 5 percent. Young people backed him too, 64 percent to 18 percent. But those margins decreased as the age cohort got older. A consistently difficult group for congressional Democrats and President Obama—white men with some college education or less—proved to be reliably thorny on this question as well. They trusted congressional Republicans more than President Obama on the fuel-cost issue, 43 percent to 31 percent. College-educated white women, a key demographic for both parties, broke better for Obama, with 44 percent of them trusting the president more to make the right decisions about lowering fuel prices. Congressional Republicans were favored by 35 percent of that group.
Overall, the poll results show a nation that’s still deeply divided over energy policy. This echoes results of the Congressional Connection Poll over the past year, in which only a few issues—such as raising taxes on the wealthy or building the Keystone XL pipeline—were supported by a clear majority of the respondents.
The United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, which surveyed 1,005 adults by landline and cell phone from March 8-11. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.
This article appears in the March 14, 2012, edition of National Journal Daily.