This week, high-profile Republicans, many of whom had opposed coastal drilling, enthusiastically reversed course and began demanding that coastal dril
June 20, 2008

This week, high-profile Republicans, many of whom had opposed coastal drilling, enthusiastically reversed course and began demanding that coastal drilling begin immediately. This was especially jarring in Florida, where Gov. Charlie Crist and Sen. Mel Martinez — both Republicans who had opposed offshore drilling as recently as last week — came out in support of the Bush/McCain policy.

It appears that the GOP is just following the political winds. Drilling, all of a sudden, is enjoying broader public support.

A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey — conducted before McCain announced his intentions on the issue — finds that 67% of voters believe that drilling should be allowed off the coasts of California, Florida and other states. Only 18% disagree and 15% are undecided. Conservative and moderate voters strongly support this approach, while liberals are more evenly divided (46% of liberals favor drilling, 37% oppose).

Sixty-four percent (64%) of voters believe it is at least somewhat likely that gas prices will go down if offshore oil drilling is allowed, although 27% don’t believe it. Seventy-eight percent (78%) of conservatives say offshore drilling is at least somewhat likely to drive prices down. That view is shared by 57% of moderates and 50% of liberal voters.

The Rasmussen poll comes around the same time as a Gallup poll that found a similar result: “Fifty-seven percent of Americans favor allowing oil drilling in coastal and wilderness areas that are currently off-limits. Forty-one percent of Americans oppose allowing drilling in those areas, and 2 percent have no opinion.”

So, is this a political problem for opponents of coastal and ANWR drilling? Perhaps, but it seems easy enough to move the needle in the other direction.

At first blush, it would seem the Bush/McCain policy is the politically salient one: if we increase supply, the price will go down. The environment’s nice, but paying less at the pump is even nicer.

Indeed, the wording of the poll questions prompted a predictable result. Rasmussen asked, “In order to reduce the price of gas, should drilling be allowed in offshore oil wells off the coasts of California, Florida, and other states?”

I wouldn’t say that's necessarily biased, but given the public’s point of view right now, if Rasmussen has asked, “In order to reduce the price of gas, would you be willing to get punched repeatedly in the face by the Heavyweight Champion of the World?” a majority would have probably said yes.

The point, of course, is that the public only has part of the story. Americans are under the impression that if we start drilling, we’ll get oil, and we might see some relief at the pump. The response, then, is simple — tell the public the truth. Even if we started coastal and wilderness drilling this morning, consumers wouldn’t benefit until 2017, if ever.

I suspect people are telling pollsters they support drilling because they’re just desperate. If there’s a chance prices would drop to, say, $3 a gallon, a lot of folks would accept drilling in their living room. So Dems and everyone else who cares about the policy just need to note reality — drilling won’t help, and wishing doesn’t make it so.

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