Top Strategists On Gas Price Messaging: Americans Want a ‘Realistic Long-Term Plan’ Not ‘Empty Political Promises’

More than 60% of Americans believe that campaign pledges to get gasoline prices to $2.50 a gallon are “empty political promises,” according to a new nationwide poll.

The poll, conducted by Hart Research Associates and commissioned by the Center for American Progress Action Fund, also found that a majority of Americans have a deep distrust of oil company messaging. The findings are being touted by top political strategists as an opportunity to win the communications battle over gas prices and move the political conversation beyond the “drill baby drill” mantra.

John Podesta, Chairman of the Center for American Progress, issued a memo with pollster Geoff Garin on the findings, explaining the opportunity for progressives to go on the offense over oil drilling and gas prices:

Americans are tired of the stranglehold oil companies have over our national energy policy. They are looking for an honest conversation and realistic long-term plan to lessen our oil dependence, not quick fixes or more empty political promises like claims of bringing gas prices back down to $2.50 per gallon by opening up more areas for oil production. They are equally divided over who to trust to take the right approach. However, by large margins they support more progressive positions than those of the “drill here, drill now” advocates. This fact makes progressive Democrats well-positioned to win the debate on gasoline prices.

By engaging in a public debate centered on exposing oil companies successful efforts to rig the system to favor their own profits over the interests of American consumers and expose their deep political and financial ties to conservatives in Congress that continue to defend their billions of dollars in tax breaks, progressives can win the gas price message war.

In recent months, the American Petroleum Institute (API) has rolled out an aggressive nationwide campaign to encourage more drilling for oil and gas, claiming that a “drill, baby, drill” policy will lower gas prices. However, multiple analyses, including the latest from the Associated Press, have found no correlation between increased domestic drilling and lower gas prices over the last few decades.


That trend is playing out very clearly today. Even while domestic oil and gas drilling is at 8-year highs under the Obama Administration, gas prices continue to climb.

Give this reality, the Hart Research poll suggests that Americans are skeptical about the oil industry’s messaging strategy. The findings show 65% of Americans “very” convinced by arguments directly attacking oil company profits:

The findings come as the battle over gas prices intensifies in Congress. This evening, the Senate is expected to vote on a bill introduced by Democratic Senator Robert Menendez that will eliminate $20 billion in oil and gas industry tax breaks, while also extending a key tax credit for the wind industry.

In their memo, Podesta and Garin recommend repeating five key themes when messaging on gas prices and oil drilling:

  • The big five oil companies — BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell — combined made a record-high $137 billion in profits in 2011 — up 75 percent from 2010 — and have made more than $1 trillion in profits from 2001 through 2011.
  • Oil companies are reducing the supply of gasoline available for U.S. markets by closing refineries in the East. According to the Energy Information Agency, ConocoPhillips and Sunoco have closed two refineries in the Philadelphia-area, with another expected to close later this summer. Additionally, a major Caribbean export refinery that supplies the East Coast closed last year.
  • A recent CAP analysis found that for every penny more consumers pay at the pump increases Big Oil profits by another $200 million.
  • In 2011 U.S. oil production reached its highest level in eight years, yet gas prices continue to rise.
  • For the first time in over a decade, imports accounted for less than half the oil consumed in America in 2010. In 2011, import dependence fell again to its lowest level in 16 years.

They also recommend linking “Big Oil’s political and financial ties to Congress” and focusing on the fact that 88 percent of oil industry campaign contributions have gone to Republicans:

Reminding voters about the ties of Republicans in Congress to the oil industry severely erodes and undermines Republicans’ credibility in the nation’s energy debate. We cannot assume this is already the case, and must continue to make this connection every time gas prices are discussed.

Highlighting the money trail between the oil industry and the Republicans in Congress is vital to winning the gas price debate. Expose opponents working to protect oil companies and their stranglehold on congressional action on energy policy. Demonstrate your own action taken to end the billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies, efforts to crack down on Wall Street speculation, and efforts to lessen our oil addiction by increasing fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks.

Podesta and Garin believe that the findings embolden arguments for repealing oil and gas subsidies and increasing support for solutions that help reduce petroleum use.


In response to the calls for such alternatives, groups supporting the oil and gas industry are also going on the offensive. In the lead up to voting on the Menendez bill, API has rolled out new ads claiming that eliminating the tax credits would raise gas prices. However, a 2011 report from the non-partisan Congressional Research Service found that repealing the tax credits would have little to no impact on gas prices.

Republican political strategists have also released ads claiming that Obama has intentionally raised gas prices. The non-partisan called the ads “bogus.”

As gas prices become a central piece of the 2012 campaign season for both Democrats and Republicans, the messaging war is about to get very intense.