American voters now consider the nation's dependence on foreign oil, the nation's top national security issue and favor tougher fuel economy standards by an overwhelming margin, according to a new poll released by the Pew Campaign for Fuel Efficiency and the National Environmental Trust.
The new polling data, along with the recent surge in oil and gasoline prices, is expected to strengthen the hand of those pushing for tougher fuel economy standards. A congressional decision on the standards is now expected before mid-December and with the price of oil soaring past $95 per barrel and gasoline prices scraping $3.50 per gallon on the West Coast, the tougher standards may yet prevail over the so-called Hill-Terry compromise favored by the Big Three and other automakers.
The study was conducted by a pair of well-regarded political pollsters and indicated overwhelming public support for imposing tougher fuel economy standards sooner rather than later. It also indicated that a majority of Americans, contrary to the position staked out by the carmakers, also believe the technology is available to raise fuel economy standards today.
"There is a lot of what I would call 'techno optimism.' People believe they can solve this problem," said Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies, a firm which works for Republican candidates, during a conference call Friday.
The nationwide poll of 1,000 voters which was taken earlier this month, also indicated the voters in every part of the country, including the auto-dependent Midwest, now favor the tougher standards, said Mark Mellman of the Washington D.C.-based Mellman Group, which polls for Democratic candidates. Some 67 percent of the voters from the
Mellman also said Friday that public support for the better fuel economy cuts across all sorts of traditional political boundaries with liberals, conservatives and moderates all supporting the tougher standards. The overwhelming majority of Americans now believe the single most important thing the
In the choice between raising fuel-economy standards to 35 miles per gallon by 2020 or to 32 miles per gallon by 2022, which is the current position favored by the automakers, 73 percent of the self-identified liberals, 66 percent of the moderates and 65 percent of the conservatives polled, favored the tougher standards, Mellman said. The results also undercut the conventional political wisdom that Americans are too divided politically to support any kind of substantive policy changes.
Mellman added that voters are increasingly concerned with the fact that the current dependence on foreign oil also means that the U.S. is sending billons of dollars per month overseas to regimes in places such as South America that are inherently hostile to the United States.
McInturff also said the poll indicated that voters have not been impressed much by the arguments advanced by the auto industry during the current debate over fuel-economy standards.
Only 19 percent of the voters polled said they would favor the 32-mile-per-gallon standard championed by the automakers. In addition, none of the arguments advanced by the automakers about technical feasibility, job loss or even arguments that cars would have to become more expensive dented the public's support for tough fuel-economy standards, McInturff said. In no instance did a single argument presented by the auto industry get the support of more than 25 percent of those answering the poll, he said.
"They're just not seen as being very compelling," he said.
"The public is ready for Congress to act," Mellman said during a conference call with reporters. "People are gravitating towards the security position," he said. Once the security issues are linked to the environmental issues, “the case for raising the standards become overwhelming in the mind of the public," he said.
By and large automakers have tried to avoid getting drawn into a discussion about the Iraq War's impact on oil prices but a majority of those polled for the Pew Campaign believed the war was about oil.
Kevin Curtis, director of the Pew Campaign for Fuel Efficiency, acknowledged his organization has been fighting for the tougher standards but said the polling data was not in any way influenced by Pew. The design of the questions used in the poll and the collection of the data was all handled by the Mellman Group and Public Opinion Strategies, which collaborated on the poll effort.
McInturff also emphasized that the pollsters had gone out of their way to make sure that the language used in the various questions was not tilted against the automakers.
Curtis said while other steps are required to reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil, raising fuel-economy standards would have an immediate and positive impact on the overall effort to reduce oil imports.