Poll finds voters favor Obama energy policies over Romney platform

Voters favor President Obama’s energy platform over the policies of GOP challenger Mitt Romney, according to a poll released Tuesday.

Thirty-seven percent of respondents in the University of Texas at Austin Energy Poll backed Obama's policies on the issue, with 28 percent preferring Romney's. However, more than a third were either undecided or not sure whose policies they preferred.

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Support for each candidate corresponded with voters' party identification. Among Republicans, 67 percent backed Romney's policies compared to 8 percent who supported Obama's. Democrats chose the president's platform 67 percent to 5 percent. 

But the poll indicated that Obama’s energy policies play better with libertarian and independent voters. 

Forty-eight percent of libertarians preferred Obama’s policies, while 21 percent backed Romney’s energy vision. Among independent voters, 27 percent sided with Obama, compared with 23 percent for Romney.

The poll also showed increasing support for energy sources regularly touted by Democrats, such as a greater acceptance of renewable energy and growing concern over climate change. 

Still, a majority of voters backed policies that would encourage fossil fuel use and production, a staple for Romney and other Republican candidates.

“Support for increased production of domestic energy supplies remains strong, and we’re also seeing a lot of interest in the promotion of alternative forms of energy and energy-saving technologies that crosses party lines,” Sheril Kirshenbaum, director of the poll, said in a statement Tuesday announcing its findings.

The number of respondents who believe climate change is occurring rose 8 percentage points between the same poll taken in March and the September survey, up to 73 percent.

That jump spanned all political stripes. The most significant leap was in Southern states — to 71 percent, up from 57 percent.

A majority of voters — 58 percent — said they are more likely to back a candidate who pledges to expand incentives for renewable energy.

The GOP has pilloried the administration for giving federal subsidies to renewable energy firms, some of which have gone bankrupt. They say such efforts are misguided policy, preferring instead to let the free market decide which energy technologies are most viable.

The administration has maintained the subsidies help domestic firms secure a share of the global clean energy market. And renewable energy backers say the incentives are necessary to catch up with legacy energy technologies such as oil and gas.

But a majority of poll respondents also encouraged fossil fuel production that Republicans have championed.

Fifty-eight percent said they would support a candidate who pledges to increase natural gas production.

Most voters also would not back a candidate who aims to decrease coal use, with 60 percent opposing that idea. That position exposed a party split, with 70 percent of Republicans and 54 percent of Democrats in favor of maintaining reliance on coal.

The poll found 92 percent of respondents were concerned about the price of gasoline, with 63 percent more likely to vote for candidate who promises to reduce prices.

Romney has often slammed Obama for restricting drilling on federal onshore and offshore lands, and expanding drilling access to those areas is chief among his energy policies. He has said that tactic would lower gasoline prices, though experts say policymakers have little impact on costs because oil prices are tied to world markets.

While Obama has been quick to note that domestic oil and gas production has increased during his White House stay, Romney and Republicans say that drilling on private and state lands fueled the rise

The Obama campaign has been addressing attacks over gasoline prices indirectly in recent weeks, but it has deflected GOP attacks on other energy issues.

Romney has criticized the president for air pollution rules that Republicans feel unfairly target the coal industry.

Obama and Democrats have said the coal industry’s recent struggles are more reflective of low natural gas prices, which have decreased demand for coal at electric utilities. The administration also has emphasized Obama’s $3 billion in funding for “clean” coal research through the stimulus.

Both Romney and Obama are jockeying for coal country votes in swing states such as Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania, states where outside groups and campaigns have engaged in an ad war in the final weeks before the Nov. 6 election.

The University of Texas at Austin Energy Poll was conducted as an online national survey from Sept. 6-17.

— This story was updated at 2:35 p.m.