Poll Finds Americans, Especially Independents, Overwhelmingly Oppose Subsidies to Fossil Fuels

Americans Desperately Want an Oil Change

by Daniel J. Weiss

As part of the FY 2013 budget released on February 13, President Obama proposed to eliminate $40 billion in tax breaks for oil and gas producers over the next ten years. Yesterday, the Yale Project on Climate Change reiterated its recent finding that Americans of all political stripes oppose subsidies for “coal, oil, and natural gas companies.” They oppose these subsidies by 70 percent to 30 percent – better than two to one.  Republicans oppose these subsidies by 67 percent to 34 percent (reflects rounding of percentages).

Intensity matters in public opinion.  A determined, energetic minority can be quite powerful.  The Yale poll shows that there is much more intensity against oil subsidies than in favor of them.  Americans strongly opposed to the subsidies outnumber those who strongly support them by 31 percent to 3 percent – a 10 to 1 ratio.  Independents – the voters who will likely determine the outcome of the 2012 election – strongly oppose these fossil fuel subsidies by 45 percent to 2 percent.

This poll was conducted from October 20 to November 16, 2011, before respondents knew that the profits of the big five oil companies – BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Shell – would be a record $137 billion in 2011.  In addition, gasoline prices averaged $3.38 to $3.44 per gallon during the survey period.   This week the average gasoline price was $3.52 and climbing.  Imagine how the anticipated higher gasoline prices combined with big oil’s record 2011 profits will intensify opposition to big oil subsidies.

It is said that elections are won in the middle.  Politicians who want to appeal to these independent voters would do well to vocally oppose these big oil subsidies.  Certainly President Obama understands that.  Supporters of big oil tax breaks may learn this lesson the hard way.

Daniel J. Weiss is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.


7 Responses to Poll Finds Americans, Especially Independents, Overwhelmingly Oppose Subsidies to Fossil Fuels

  1. Lou Grinzo says:

    Am I the only one here who is struck by the similarity between the Republicans and Democrats in the bar chart, and how conspicuously they both differ from the Independents? If someone asked me before I saw these results to make a prediction, I would have said that Democrats were least in favor of FF subsidies, not Independents.

  2. Steve says:


    Perhaps a large percentage of Independents are to the left of registered Democrats, and we mistakenly assume they split the difference between the two parties… but I really don’t know.

    I do agree with many of your posts, including the idea of using social media to mobilize corporate boycotts and voting, the two arenas where, in theory, numbers trump dollars.

  3. Andrew Scott says:

    The IEA estimated world wide fossil-fuel subsidies at 400$B for 2010 alone. This means that there is still a great deal of work to do on this portfolio. I wish the parliamentary opposition in Canada would seriously take up this cause.

  4. Debbie Brady says:

    As of November of last year, The number one export of the US is Gasoline. This is how the oil companys are propping up the price at the pump, in the face of decreased consumer demand. I heard this on the Thom Hartman Show. I need to look into his source, but I trust him to have the facts.

  5. Tim says:

    I doubt that I’ll ever declare a party affiliation – I disagree with aligning myself with a prepackaged set of positions. That said, the virtually every member of the modern Republican party arouses nothing in me but utter disgust. Democrats who get my votes often get them either as the lesser of two evils.

  6. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    In a capitalist economy, dollars trump people, every time. Certainly, when searching for votes at the period electoral circuses the politico-pathocrats will lie, present a false image, deliver deliberately confusing messages, bribe, appeal to low prejudices and deride the opposition etc (all the standard techniques)to garner a majority, but once safely ensconced in power, they will serve the money power of the 1%, who, incidentally but crucially, pay for their electoral escapades. The public could be 99% against these subsidies, but in vain.

  7. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Imagine $400 billion a year spent on renewable research, development and installation. I wonder what excuse Bjorn Lomborg would concoct to oppose it?