Recent polling finds that voters overwhelmingly support cracking down on Big Oil as gas prices have reached record highs and lawmakers pursue legislation to tax their profits.
The poll, conducted earlier this month by Hart Research Associates on behalf of the League of Conservation Voters and Climate Power, found that a whopping 87 percent of voters believe that lawmakers should take action against profiteering oil and gas companies. Eighty percent of voters favor a windfall tax on industry profits, which would discourage companies from price gouging.
Most voters agree that oil companies are profiteering off of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with 57 percent of voters saying as such and only 24 percent of voters disagreeing. Meanwhile, 49 percent of voters say that current high gas prices are due to oil and gas companies wanting to pad their profits, while only 37 percent say that prices are a reflection of market conditions.
Gas prices are currently about $4.25 a gallon on average across the U.S. This is slightly lower than last week’s highs of around $4.30, but still very high compared to the average of $2.59 in March of 2019; overall, according to the Labor Department, gas prices are up about 38 percent from a year ago.
Democrats have pinned high prices directly on oil and gas companies looking to profit off of international conflict and pandemic-related economic uncertainty. Progressive lawmakers like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) have called for accountability for the industry. “[T]here should be consequences” for oil company “profiteering,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted last week.
Earlier this month, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-California) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) introduced a bill that would tax barrels imported or produced by large oil companies based on the difference between current prices and average pre-pandemic prices. Revenue collected from the tax would be redistributed directly to the public, with checks totalling about $240 a year for individuals making less than $75,000 in income.
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) introduced similar legislation last week, which would directly target taxable income from this year that exceeds pre-pandemic profits. The bill would also give consumers a a tax credit based on that tax.
The polling suggests that passing such a bill would be a winning strategy for Democrats looking to have a leg up in the 2022 midterms. Though experts say that there is virtually nothing that President Joe Biden could do to affect gas prices, higher gas prices largely correlate with lower presidential approval; Biden’s approval began dipping in late summer last year, around when inflation began rising and gas prices followed.
Democrats have an opportunity to win over voters with messaging around gas prices as well. Sixty percent of poll respondents say that price gouging is a major cause of high gas prices; the same proportion also says that oil companies’ decisions to limit production and export large volumes of oil are keeping prices high.
“Democrats can increase their advantage on these issues by not taking Republican calls for expanded oil production at face value and by making sure voters understand these proposals for what they really are,” the polling memo reads. “For example, by 46 percent to 36 percent, voters oppose relaxing or eliminating clean water protections that limit the development of shale oil, and voters need to know that this is what Republicans want when they call on America to ‘drill, baby, drill.’”
Oil companies and conservatives have indeed been advocating for more drilling in the face of the war in Ukraine. They claim that increasing production is currently crucial, ignoring the fact that the U.S. is already producing near its limit.
In response to the poll, climate activists have called for the passage of a windfall tax. “Despite the fossil fuel industry’s disinformation campaigns, voters know who is to blame for high gas prices: Big Oil,” Jamie Henn, Fossil Free Media director, said in a statement. Fossil Free Media has launched a campaign in support of the proposal to push Congress to pass the bill.
“For politicians on both sides of the aisle, this polling is proof that their constituents overwhelmingly support the idea of a windfall profits tax that would stop Big Oil profiteering and send relief directly to consumers,” Henn continued. “If members of Congress refuse to act, it’ll be concrete evidence that they’re in the pockets of the industry.”