Voters Want Obama’s Clean Energy Plan

Another major poll has confirmed that American voters across the political spectrum welcome clean energy development. It also found that when given the facts, the majority of Democrats and Independents oppose the Keystone XL pipeline for dirty tar sands oil.

The support for clean energy isn’t news—many pollsters have determined that Democrats, Republicans, and Independents embrace clean energy and want to develop more of it. But the timing of this latest poll is instructive.

It should remind candidates that clean energy is a mobilizing issue. It offers a positive way to address voters’ biggest concerns right now: jobs, economic growth, and the health of our families.

But as NRDC’s Action Fund mapped out in the report “Running Clean,” in order to win on clean energy, candidates can’t just name check the issue.

They have to lead on it. They have to offer a vision for America’s clean energy future, and they have to do it before their opponents frame the issue for them.

This latest poll, conducted by Geoff Garin and Allan Rivlin of Hart Research, focused on four swing states: Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio. Those same four states have been bombarded with ads funded by oil companies attacking President Obama. And yet the poll found that 45 percent of voters trust the president more than the Republican Congress when it comes to energy issues. The GOP-led House only got 38 percent on energy.

The poll also asked voters if they supported the president’s decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. At first, voters opposed his decision by 43 to 32 percent. But when pollsters offered more detailed arguments for and against the pipeline, things changed. More voters started to back the president and resist the pipeline.

Of those, 79 percent of Democrats thought the president was right to deny the pipeline, while 9 percent did not. Forty-eight percent of Independents agreed with the president’s decision to reject it, compared to 33 percent who want it go forward. For Republicans, the split was 69 percent to 13 percent.

GOP supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline have been out front with their message over the past few weeks. They have been using wildly inflated jobs numbers and downplaying the fact that much of the tar sands oil would be imported out of the U.S. to other markets. But their story seemed to break through.

Media Matters released a survey analyzing coverage of the Keystone XL pipeline from August 1 to December 31, 2011. A full 79 percent of the time, broadcast news reporting on Keystone XL interviewed a pipeline proponent.  They interviewed a critic of the tar sands pipeline only 7 percent of the time.

With coverage like that, it’s no wonder voters aren’t getting the whole story. But when they learn more—like that the pipeline will create as few as 2,500 jobs according to a Cornell University study, will increase gas prices in the Midwest, and send its dirty oil to the “Foreign Trade Zone” in Port Arthur, Texas, where companies get incentives to export around the world, then their opposition grows. The Hart Research poll confirms it.

But leaders have to get their message out about why the dirty stuff hurts America and why clean energy helps it grow. Voters respond to the clean-versus-dirty message, but candidates have to deliver that message clearly and quickly. This isn’t just about the race in November; this is the race every day to frame the debate first.

Obama has done a masterful job of framing the benefits of the clean energy economy. He consistently says clean energy can deliver more jobs, safer air, and a bigger competitive advantage for Americans businesses, and he enacts policies—from clean car standards to incentives for wind and solar power—that are delivering those benefits right now. He believes so strongly in the appeal of clean energy that he made it the topic of his first presidential campaign ad last month.

In the end, this isn’t about campaign rhetoric. It’s about our country’s future. The polls show that Americans trust Obama on energy issues and support his clean energy plan. They are giving him permission to lead the nation into a cleaner future.

The dirty tar sands pipeline has no place in that future. But if Obama continues to head down the cleaner path, voters will follow.

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