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.