05/04/06 FOX News Poll: Gas Prices a Problem, but Not a Crisis

NEWYou can now listen to Fox News articles!

Most Americans think the nation’s current gas price situation is a problem, but they do not describe it as a crisis. Less than half say their family is making a significant effort to conserve. In addition, a clear majority would rather let gas prices fluctuate based on supply and demand than have the government regulate prices and ration gas supplies. These are just some of the finding of a new national FOX News poll.

As the national average price of gasoline nears $3 dollars a gallon and all of Washington is working on the issue, the new poll finds that most Americans have yet to hit the panic button. A 52 percent majority says they think the current situation is best described as a "major problem, but not a crisis," another 13 percent call it a "minor problem" and 2 percent say "not a problem at all."

About a third of Americans say they would describe the current situation as a crisis (32 percent).

Democrats are 17 percentage points more likely than Republicans, and families making less than $50,000 are 16 percentage points more likely than those from higher income families to say the gas price situation is a crisis.

As a follow up, those saying it is not a crisis were asked how high gas prices would have to go for them to call it a crisis. A total of 25 percent say the price would have to go above $3 dollars a gallon, 52 percent would call it a crisis if it went above $4 dollars and 76 percent above $5 dollars. Almost all of those who do not currently call it a crisis would call it that if prices went to $6 dollars a gallon or more (84 percent).

Opinion Dynamics Corporation conducted the national telephone poll of 900 registered voters for FOX News on May 2 and May 3.

How much effort are Americans making to conserve gas or cut back on other spending to be able to afford gas? Some describe their family’s effort as a "tremendous" amount (19 percent) and 27 percent say they are making "a lot" of effort. Even so, just over half say their family is putting "some, but not a lot" or "not much effort at all" into conserving.

While the gas situation may not qualify as a crisis to most, the issue is clearly important to voters. The economy (16 percent), gas prices (15 percent) and Iraq (13 percent) are the top three issues Americans say will be most important in deciding their vote for Congress this fall.

"Right now people are unhappy about prices, but only a minority can be described as really angry," comments Opinion Dynamics Chairman John Gorman. "Part of this is certainly because there have been price spikes in the past that have settled back to more reasonable levels. If prices continue to rise, or even persist at current levels, then the number of angry people is bound to rise.

"Another factor moderating anger is the lack of any clear, simple answer. While people can change the type of car they buy, most people aren’t in the market and won’t be changing for some time. Changing homes or jobs to make it possible to drive less is even less practical. Given the public’s commitment to a free market, there simply isn’t anything to demand."

Blame is a popular theme when talking about soaring gas prices. As far as who deserves "a lot" of blame, the poll finds majorities assign blame to the oil industry (66 percent "a lot"), followed by the federal government (53 percent) and instability in Iran (52 percent).

About 4 in 10 Americans think consumers who drive big vehicles deserve a lot of blame (39 percent), and a similar number -- 37 percent -- think the same of people who block oil exploration and drilling.

What about political parties? Almost twice as many Americans blame Republicans for the current rise in gas prices because of their close ties to the oil industry as blame Democrats because they are too close to environmentalists (36 percent to 20 percent). About one in four think both parties are to blame (27 percent).

Last week President George W. Bush announced an investigation into possible price fixing by the oil industry. Respondents were asked, after being told that previous investigations failed to find evidence of price fixing, how likely it is the new investigation will uncover price manipulation and the results were divided: 47 percent think it is likely and 50 percent unlikely.

A slim majority of Americans believes oil companies set the gasoline price (52 percent) while a large minority believes prices are set by the market place (42 percent). According to the Department of Energy, gasoline prices are largely set by oil futures, which are traded at the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The public prefers market forces controlling gas prices rather than the government. Though 31 percent would like to have gas rationed and prices regulated by the government, a 55 percent majority thinks the way to go is without rationing and allowing gas prices to go up or down based on supply and demand.

Thinking about solutions to the nation’s long-term energy situation, the poll finds the public likes the idea of giving tax breaks for research into alternative fuels and is unimpressed with giving rebate checks to taxpayers.

Fully 79 percent of Americans think giving tax incentives to companies to encourage development of alternatives fuel would help the energy situation, and 68 percent think it would help to drill in the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge and the Gulf of Mexico.

Consumers have mixed views on whether $100 rebate checks to taxpayers (40 percent help, 42 percent hurt) and relaxing environmental standards (46 percent help, 44 percent hurt) would do more good or more harm. Two-thirds think it would hurt the long-term energy situation to raise gas prices above $5 dollars a gallon to encourage conservation (65 percent).

Overall, Americans now lean toward focusing on the supply problem. By a 49 percent to 35 percent margin, the public thinks the better way to reduce dependence on foreign oil is to increase supply by drilling more in the United States rather than decreasing demand by requiring conservation.

When this question was last asked in February 2002 the results were essentially reversed. At that time, by 10-percentage points, decreasing demand through conservation (43 percent) topped increasing supply through drilling (33 percent).

PDF: Click here for full poll results.