Left and Right Agree: Oil Is the Problem

Reading the political tea leaves, Congress prepares to act soon on energy.

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Whether you are a "Fortress America" type, an international environmentalist, or somewhere in between on the American political spectrum, you're very likely to believe one thing: One of the top issues facing the nation is U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

That finding, from a new survey and focus groups conducted jointly by Republican strategist Bill McInturff and Democratic pollster Geoff Garin, explains much about why a long-floundering Congress is getting ready to raise automobile fuel economy standards for the first time in three decades. Washington is abuzz with the news that House and Senate negotiators have reached a deal to require the nation's fleet of vehicles to achieve a 35-mpg average by 2020. If the vote proceeds next week as expected, it would blow away Detroit's once-powerful lobby and the objections of Michigan lawmakers who stood in the way of tougher standards for years.

To see why the carmakers lost their mojo on this issue, take a look at the McInturff-Garin survey. Although environmental concerns, as usual, rise to the top level of national issues only for voters on the left, the oil dependence issue is high on the list of the nation's most pressing problems even for the largely white, male, national-security-conscious voters whom McInturff and Garin identify as "Fortress America."

Significantly, oil also is a big concern of the two right-leaning voting segments that McInturff and Garin identify as "in play" going into 2008. They are the "Reluctant Superpower" types, a formerly solid GOP bloc that is tired of believing that America is fighting terrorism all on its own, and the "Average American, Lean Right" citizens, who want to bring troops home from Iraq even though they voted heavily for President Bush in 2004. Both rank American dependence on foreign oil as a huge issue.

McInturff and Garin conducted the surveys for Ted Turner's United Nations Foundation, and the main finding was that American attitudes are shifting in favor of more international cooperation. But voters' unanimity on the problem of oil is the finding likely to be on the minds of politicians. Look for December to be the month for a flurry of action on energy in Washington.