Nearly 90 percent of respondents in a nonpartisan poll said that the United States’ reliance on oil imports is a major concern, an issue that ranked a close second to the number of casualties in the war in Iraq. Fifty-five percent of the people polled “worry a lot” about the consequences of imports, a 13 percent increase from last July. In addition, 50 percent of those questioned gave a grade of D or F to policymakers for their attempts to curb oil imports.
The telephone poll of one thousand Americans was conducted January 1022 by Public Agenda, a nonprofit and nonpartisan research organization. Public Agenda Chairman Daniel Yankelovich said oil dependence is an issue that now meets all the criteria for having reached a “tipping point.” These criteria exist when a distinct majority expresses concern about an issue, public unease has reached significant levels, and it is believed that the government is capable of handling the issue more effectively than it has previously.
“In our first edition of the tracking survey last summer, we reported that just one foreign policy issue, the war in Iraq, had reached the point at which public opinion could no longer be ignored,” said Yankelovich. “Energy dependence has now also hit that tipping point when policymakers must take heed.”
On April 30, U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman called the country’s energy situation a “crisis.” He added that it may be three years before there is relief from high gas prices.
Public Agenda’s poll has a margin of error of +/- 4 percentage points. The organization was founded by Yankelovich and former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance in 1975, and its mission is to help leaders better understand the public’s point of view and to educate citizens about policy issues so they are able to make informed decisions.
While the country presently deals with high prices at the pump, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee was warned in March that there is an 80 percent chance of a significant oil shock within a decade, which would cause the country to slip into a recession. Committee members were also informed by various experts that the cost of importing oil goes beyond the barrel price, with one estimate putting this year’s tab at $825 billion.
One of the experts in attendance, Milton Copulous of the National Defense Council Foundation, said the Pentagon is spending $132 billion to protect crude oil supplies around the world, focusing on the Middle East. Hillard Huntington, a Stanford University economist, warned that a surprise cutoff abroad of at least 2 million barrels a day (2 percent of the world supply) would slow the economy about 5 percent, thus leading to a recession.
“Foreign disruptions of this magnitude would have more serious effects on oil prices and the economy than we have ever seen with the Katrina and Rita hurricanes,” Huntington commented.