API: Voters back energy development a year before 2016 elections

US voters overwhelmingly support more aggressive development of domestic energy resources, the American Petroleum Institute said as it released results of an October telephone survey it commissioned. But speakers at a Nov. 3 event held by API said it’s far from certain that energy will be a major national elections issue a year from now.

One speaker even suggested that the oil and gas industry could become the victim of its own success if Democrats successfully convince voters that the US energy supply outlook dramatically improved during the Obama administration.

“API’s ‘Keeping a Good Thing Going’ campaign actually could help them,” explained Keith Frederick, owner of Frederick Polls LLC in Arlington, Va. “But they’ll need to talk hard about their successes because only 28% of the population believes that things are getting better.”

A second speaker, Nathan L. Gonzales, editor and publisher of the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report, added, “It’s harder to work people up to work for an issue than against something. I don’t think either party will offer much help. That makes trusted messengers such as API more important.”

As he released results of an Oct. 15-25 telephone survey of 2,801 US voters by Harris Poll, which the trade association commissioned, API Pres. Jack N. Gerard said it showed a strong majority strongly supports activities associated with oil and gas development. “API will continue to encourage a public discourse on energy policy,” Gerard said. “We believe energy will be a significant 2016 election issue.”

Eighty-six percent of the respondents indicated that increased US oil and gas production could lead to more jobs, and 84% said it could stimulate the general US economy. Eighty-five percent said increased access to US oil and gas resources could increase energy security, and 78% said it could help reduce consumers’ energy costs.

From RFS to exports

When it came to the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, 72% said they were concerned about government requirements to increase the amount of ethanol in gasoline since most automotive manufacturers don’t warranty their vehicles against potential damages. On the question of exporting US-produced energy, 61% supported the concept as a way to assist US allies.

“The electoral decisions we collectively make in 2016 will be fundamental to the trajectory of our nation’s energy, economic, and national security future,” Gerard said. “Future generations are looking to us to get our nation’s energy policy right and are counting on us to leave them a country that is second-to-none in energy production, security, and economic prosperity.”

Frederick said US voters are very pragmatic about energy. “They like being able to get around. This gives them a lot of common ground,” he said. “There obviously are lots of different dimensions, particularly for Democrats. The swing voter in the middle will carry more weight than either extreme.”

A third speaker, Rob Engstrom, a senior vice-president and national political director at the US Chamber of Commerce, said, “It’s incumbent on Democratic members of Congress from producing states to exert more influence on their party’s national energy stance.”

He said, “I think the pendulum swung far to the left for more regulation during President Obama’s first term. People might not necessarily feel overregulated in general, but more and more of them are able to cite specific cases where they do now. Whatever happens, there will be a bipartisan energy policy opportunity in the next administration’s first 100 days.”

A fourth speaker, Glen Bolger, partner and cofounder of Public Opinion Strategy, a national public and public affairs survey research firm, noted, “National security also is an important energy issue that the news media doesn’t emphasize. Right now, it looks as if a number of broader issues—such as the economy and foreign policy—will be debated. I think energy will be part of it, but I don’t know how big it’s going to be.”

A climate of complacency

When an audience member, National Ocean Industries Association Pres. Randall B. Luthi, said the industry could be a victim of its own success because prices are so low that voters will be complacent, particularly about adding more lease sales along the US Outer Continental Shelf in the next 5-year program, Bolger said there’s a more partisan difference on this energy question than others with Republicans generally for it and Democrats largely opposed.

“The definition of being pro-business depends on where you live,” Engstrom said. “API has a done a good job talking about local impacts of federal policies. The electorate is pretty surly. There’s not much optimism right now.” Energy may not be a prominent issue, but could provide a basis for bipartisan conversations in smaller groups which might lead to constructive policy recommendations, he said.

Gonzales noted that educating voters on energy issues’ finer points takes money and patience, both of which API apparently has. “The news of the day is going to drive the 2016 elections,” he said. “Each party has issues that it wants to drive. Candidates seem reluctant to embrace the president.”

Engstrom said many Republican candidates for the US Senate will try to emulate Cory Gardner’s successful 2014 bid to unseat Democrat Mark Udall in Colorado. “My question is how much of Gardner’s success was policy-driven and how much of it was personality,” said Gonzales. “He was a rarity among conservatives because he actually smiled.”

Frederick noted that it’s hard to tell now whether the upcoming presidential election will be close, with each of the two main nominees getting about 47% of the total vote, or if it will be more lopsided because one of them makes a major mistake. “The playing field is so tilted against Washington right now that many candidates could try to campaign against overregulation,” he said.

Bolger said, “It will be a state-by-state situation. Some Republicans will survive without a presidential groundswell. Others won’t.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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