Straddling the Political Pipeline

In the latest installment of the Washington Waiting Game, we have the soon-to-be-released re-decision on the President’s initial refusal to make a decision on the future of the Keystone Pipeline.  Enquiring minds want to know:  will the President side with the vocal environmentalist faction of his party (block the Pipeline) or will he follow the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Americans (allow the Pipeline to be built).

Pew Research released a  poll last week showing two-thirds of Americans (66%) support building the Keystone Pipeline – identical to their numbers from year ago (February 2012:  66% favor – 23% oppose).  Perhaps my Googling skills are rusty, but I can’t seem to find a single credible poll where support for the Keystone Pipeline has been below 57% (Gallup, March 2012).  Around the time of that Gallup poll, Fox News found 70% of Americans believed we should build the Pipeline (February 2012) and a poll from Yale/George Mason Universities pegged support at 69% (March 2012).

Moreover, in today’s hyper-polarizing political climate, it’s rare we find an issue that is as non-partisan as this one. According to last week’s Pew Research survey, 82% of Republicans favor the Keystone Pipeline, including 83% of conservative Republicans and 81% of moderate/liberal Republicans.

But, it’s not just Republicans jumping on the Keystone bandwagon.  Seven out of ten Independent voters (70%) favor the Pipeline, while just 21% oppose it.  In fact, Pew Research found support for Keystone is up among Independents from a year ago (February 2012:  66% favor – 27% oppose).

Even most Democrats back the Pipeline.  Pew’s poll found that Democratic voters overall favor the Keystone Pipeline by a 20-point margin (54% favor – 34% oppose).  There is a noticeable ideological split within the Democratic ranks, as Conservative Democrats back building it (60% favor – 28% oppose), while Liberal Democrats stand divided (42% favor – 48% oppose).  Finally, there is a sub-group that opposes it (sort of)!

Interestingly, the Pew data suggests Liberal Democrats might be warming up to the idea as support for the Pipeline is up 12 points from a year ago (Pew Research, February 2012:  30% favor – 49% oppose – 17% not sure/undecided).  The issue may end up being relegated to battles among the Democratic base, such as what we’re seeing on the airwaves in the special election Democratic primary to replace John Kerry in Massachusetts.

What we do know is that regardless of the Obama Administration’s decision, Democratic Congressional candidates across the country will be hearing a lot about this issue in the lead-up to the 2014 midterms – either in the primary or general election (or both).

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