WASHINGTON A new national poll shows broad public support for government action in the face of $4-a-gallon gas and other energy concerns, giving Republicans a rare opening to go on the offensive against congressional Democrats and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.
Nearly two-thirds of Americans now put a priority on "finding new sources of energy" over improving conservation a significant shift since 2001 and majorities support all of the five potential federal initiatives tested in a new ABC News poll.
There is overwhelming backing for stricter fuel efficiency standards, as large majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents alike line up behind the idea. There is also widespread support across party lines for a more controversial proposal in the battle over energy policy: offshore oil drilling.
Overall, 63 percent want the federal government to lift its embargo on new drilling in U.S. coastal waters. Nearly eight in 10 Republicans and seven in 10 independents back the idea, as do just over half of Democrats in the poll conducted in partnership with Stanford University and Planet Green.
The findings come after weeks of pressure from Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, and GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill who have demanded straight up or down votes on more domestic drilling. Faced with opposition from Democratic leaders, House Republicans on Friday completed the first week of what they hope to be an almost month-long protest on the chamber floor.
Since Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., gaveled the summer session of the House to a close, Republicans have taken to the floor for speeches in a dimly lighted chamber with no microphones, legislative action or Congressional Record and have held twice-daily news conferences to get their message out. McCain joined in on the calls for Democrats to reconvene the House and Senate from the campaign trail, urging Congress to pass legislation that would allow offshore drilling.
"House Republicans have remained on the floor speaking directly to the chorus of Americans filling the House Visitors Gallery requesting that Speaker Pelosi reconvene the House and allow a vote on comprehensive, common-sense approach to reducing the price of energy," GOP leaders wrote this week in a letter to all 236 House Democrats.
But Democrats have dismissed the past week as a media-driven stunt. They took note of Rep. David Davis, R-Tenn., who was upset in Thursday's Republican primary by Johnson City Mayor Phil Roe. Roe ran ads accusing "Big Oil" of "trying to buy our seat in Congress," and noting that Davis had been a recipient of significant energy company campaign cash.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., recently called offshore oil exploration "a real big, wet kiss" to oil companies who supported President Bush's campaigns. Democratic strategists said the Roe victory reassured them that if the theme of attacking Big Oil worked in an eastern Tennessee GOP primary, it should work in less conservative districts in the general election.
Pelosi has refused to yield on the issue, arguing repeatedly that the only short-term fix for gas prices is for Bush to release millions of barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a position that Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, has also embraced, along with some public flirtation with supporting a compromise bill allowing for more drilling.
"There is nothing that the Republicans are proposing that will have an impact on the price at the pump. Yeah, 10 years from now, 2 cents. But what we are saying is free our oil in 10 days, not 10 years. And that's what we will keep pushing," Pelosi told reporters before the August recess.
Republicans, particularly House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, have publicly embraced a number of conservation measures and attempts at finding renewable sources of energy along with their calls for more drilling offshore and in Western oil shale. Calling it the "all of the above" strategy, Republicans think that the broad approach gives them the high ground: supporting more domestic oil production in the short run and less energy consumption in the long term as the path to energy independence.
The new poll holds welcome news for Republicans' approach in a campaign season that has otherwise left McCain and the GOP with few opportunities to trump Democrats.
In addition to offshore drilling, most voters support an expansion of drilling in wilderness areas where it is currently banned, although Democrats and independents are about evenly split on that concept. By contrast, Republicans are divided 50 to 49 percent on whether to increase taxes on oil company profits, something that nearly two-thirds of Democrats and 54 percent of independents favor. Overall, 55 percent support these new taxes.
And just over six in 10 back new regulations on speculators with the idea of restricting trading that may affect the price of gasoline.
Nuclear power, which McCain has trumpeted as a cleaner energy source than oil, fares the worst in terms of public support, with 44 percent supporting the construction of more nuclear power plants. But that is up 10 percentage points from three years ago, reaching its highest level in polls going back to 1980.
On their own, many Americans have embraced conservation efforts: More than seven in 10 said they are trying to cut back on their energy usage. Most of those respondents said they are driving less, about half said they have curtailed electricity use, and a third said they have tried to reduce their "carbon footprint" by recycling.
About four in 10 said they are motivated by both environmental and economic concerns. A third said they are primarily driven by environmental worries, a quarter mainly by the financial pinch.
Half of those polled, however, said that a candidate's being a "strong environmentalist" would have little impact on their vote, a 14-point jump from the spring of 1999.
The poll was conducted by telephone July 23 to 28 among a random national sample of 1,000 adults. The results from the full survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.