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Rising Gas Prices May Hurt Obama, but Republicans Poised to Overplay Their Hand

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Republicans hope to turn high gas prices into electoral gains, but voters don't yet blame Obama for skyrocketing prices and more think Democrats will do a better job than Republicans on energy.

Washington Post/ABC and CBS/New York Times released polling this week showing Obama's standing weakened due to rising gas prices. Though his ratings dropped, the correlation with rising gas prices does not necessarily mean causation; other factors could be at work. In the case of WaPo/ABC this month's sample was more Republican-leaning than February, likely a natural fluctuation in party ID but worth noting. Further, polls released since Monday have not shown the same downward trend (noted here).

While the jury is out on whether rising gas prices have hurt Obama's overall standing, it is clear voters disapprove of his energy policy and handling of the "situation with gas prices" (WaPo/ABC). And majorities believe it is in his power to reduce gas prices (in WaPo/ABC and NYT/CBS).

But several signs indicate Republicans hoping to capitalize on this crisis should proceed with caution.

Disapproval of Obama's energy policy and dealing with gas prices does not translate into blame. Pew/WaPo found a plurality (24%) unsure who to blame for rising gas prices and though 18% blame Obama nearly as many blame oil companies (14%) or Iran/Middle East unrest (11%).

Despite what Newt thinks, voters are not averse to driving more fuel-efficient cars. In 2011 CNN and Fox News found majorities (or near majorities) considering purchasing a more fuel efficient car due to rising gas prices. Similarly Pew found just as many support tax incentives for driving fuel efficient vehicles as favor increased offshore drilling.

And Bloomberg finds nearly as much support for investing in alternative energy (46%) as expanded domestic drilling (49%) to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

Considering voter support for energy policies beyond expanded drilling, it should come as no surprise that more trust Democrats than Republicans to deal with our energy problem in today's Pew poll.

No doubt rising gas prices pose a serious threat to our fragile economic recovery, and could very well hurt the president's reelection chances should they lead to a double-dip recession. But Republicans hoping to capitalize on this crisis pursue a "drill baby drill" platform at their own peril. Voters want a serious, multifaceted energy policy, something Republicans have yet to deliver.

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