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Heating Up on Energy

As the debate over energy and environmentalism between John McCain and Barack Obama gets hotter than a D.C. afternoon in August, recent polling on the issue shows the public broadly prefers Obama to handle related issues, but both have proposed policies that appear to garner widespread support.

In the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, majorities said they trust Obama more to handle gasoline prices, energy policy more broadly and global warming and other environmental issues.

His lead holds among both Democrats and independents, but Republicans favor their own standard bearer, with only about one in five choosing Obama over McCain in each of these areas.

The issues surrounding rising gas prices gained prominence in the public's mind well before the candidates' sparring this week. In the same poll, conducted June 12 through 15, more than three-quarters reported increased gas prices were a financial hardship, a majority called them a "serious" one. And nearly as many people cited gas and oil prices, energy issues, and environmental concerns as their top issue in the presidential contest as named health care.

Other public polling out more recently shows a similar trend. The Gallup/USA Today poll found Obama holding a nearly 20-point advantage on handling energy policy (including gas prices), with 51 percent calling the issue "extremely important" to their vote, just a hair more than said so of the economy more generally (49 percent) and ahead of Iraq (44 percent).

Newsweek's poll found 48 percent said they thought Obama would do a better job handling energy policy, 34 percent chose McCain.

Still, when a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll asked about policies (although without pairing them with specific tradeoffs), few opposed those McCain is proposing. Three-quarters favored increased drilling for oil in the U.S. and in the Gulf of Mexico, and more than half favored drilling in a small area of the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge. A slim majority (51 percent) was in favor of building more nuclear power plants.

But, there is a trade-off: fewer would favor relaxing environmental standards in order to reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil, according to the Fox poll, and a new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll finds majority support for expanded drilling to be conditional on environmental protections. Just 13 percent would favor drilling without those regulations.

The Post-ABC News poll found broad support for encouraging the development of alternative energy sources through tax breaks, 63 percent said they support such incentives, while just a third felt alternative energy should be left to the open marketplace.

Regardless of who you may support, 
who do you trust more to handle...
Gasoline prices:
            Obama   McCain
All           50      30
Democrats     75      11
Republicans   20      56
Independents  45      32
Global warming and other environmental issues:
            Obama   McCain
All           55      28
Democrats     80      11
Republicans   23      53
Independents  50      29
Energy policy:
            Obama   McCain
All           51      36
Democrats     76      16
Republicans   17      75
Independents  48      33

By Jennifer Agiesta  |  June 24, 2008; 6:17 PM ET
Categories:  Post Polls  
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