John McCain’s push on energy policy today is good cause for a quick review of recent data. Let’s start with one approach I don’t love.
A recent Gallup poll asked people if, “to attempt to reduce the price of gasoline,” they favor or oppose drilling in U.S. coastal and wilderness areas. Fifty-seven percent were in favor, but this kind of question makes me worry about positive-attribute bias. It posits a reduction of gas prices, with no balancing language on the other side – raising skepticism whether and when prices indeed would fall (there’s debate), or environmental concerns, or frankly anything to level the playing field in considering the options.
In previous polling, support for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, for example, has been lower than the 57 percent number Gallup produced. It may be that support for drilling has increased as gas prices have run up. It also may just be an example of how message testing works: If you want to promote drilling, do so as a way to cut gas prices.
In a better Gallup question, but one dating to March, 61 percent preferred “more conservation by consumers of existing energy supplies" over “production of more oil, gas and coal supplies" (29 percent). And in a Pew poll in February, the public more narrowly opposed drilling specifically in ANWR, by 50-42 percent.
Setting aside whether it's reasonable, people generally favor soft energy (wind, solar etc.) and conservation over traditional energy sources. In that same Pew poll, the public opposed tax breaks for oil exploration by 53-42 percent, and split on government promotion of nuclear power, 48 percent opposed vs. 44 percent in favor; but favored federal funding for research on wind, solar and hydrogen technology by 81-14 percent and on mass transit by 72-23 percent.
Separately, from our new ABC/Post poll:
Americans trust Obama over McCain…
-to handle energy policy, by 51-36 percent;
-to handle gas prices, by 50-30 percent; and
-to handle global warming and other environmental issues, by 55-28 percent.
And by 2-1 (63-32 percent), the public says it’s preferable for the government to offer tax breaks for companies to develop alternative energy sources, rather than to leave it to the marketplace.