Should Democrats really talk about electric vehicles as a solution to gas prices?

Associated Press/David Zalubowski
In this Dec. 21, 2020 file photo, a Chevrolet Bolt charges at an Electrify America site outside Colorado Mills outlet mall in downtown Lakewood, Colo.

As the nation grapples with high inflation and skyrocketing fuel prices, and Democrats try to hold onto control of Congress in the midterm elections this fall, I was hired by a group called Centrist Democrats of America (CDA) to conduct a survey to determine how Americans feel about electric vehicles (EVs) and their relation to gas prices.

The head of the group, Hank Naughton, is a former Massachusetts legislator who for nearly two decades represented a rural, heavily working-class district. Naughton and his organization are seeking to help all Democrats better communicate with centrist voters. CDA wondered if pushing the increased use of EVs — especially during a fuel crisis — resonates with the American people or if it would be a political liability this fall.

Undoubtedly, a fully electric vehicle fleet in the U.S. would reduce tailpipe emissions and end our dependence on petroleum, and could help fight the existential threat of climate change. But for Democrats, politically speaking, holding on to majorities in Congress for the next two years is the critical goal for making advancements in environmental issues (among others).  Our poll results paint a clear picture that Democrats should be wary of pushing voters too hard regarding EVs or offering EVs as a solution for high gas prices. Consider these findings of the survey taken from April 1-4:

  • 66 percent of respondents are very concerned about the high cost of gas and oil, 54 percent are very concerned about U.S. dependence on foreign sources of oil, and 49 percent are very concerned about the long-term energy security of the United States.
  • Only 7 percent of respondents strongly support adding “an additional charge on people’s electric bill to help fund the building of charging stations for electric vehicles.”
  • For those not likely to buy an EV in the next two years or more, expense was a top concern.
  • 41 percent of respondents believe the shift towards EVs is happening and that additional federal investments are “not an effective use of taxpayer money.”
  • When asked to rank federal spending priorities, funding for “increasing the number of electric vehicles” came in last, behind these more popular priorities (in order of favorability): “funding for ending childhood hunger,” “funding to fix our roads and bridges,” “funding for police training and hiring,” “funding to build K-12 schools,” “funding for wind and solar energy,” and “funding for public transportation.”

Keep in mind, the poll was taken as the nation was dealing with high gasoline prices. So, if there ever were a time that people should be supportive of EVs, it seemingly would be now. Yet, when respondents were asked for their opinions on ways to deal with high gas prices, support for policies to promote EVs — such as investing in EV infrastructure and adding charges to people’s power bills to pay for charging stations — again came in last, behind options such as “temporarily stop charging state and federal taxes on gas,” “increase the number of permits for drilling for oil and gas,” and “release 1 million barrels [of oil] a day from the national strategic reserve.”

Democrats should take notice of these opinions. After all, over the past several years, progressive Democrats have become increasingly vocal in their support for EVs. It’s fair to say that progressives are pushing for government policies that would quickly transition 100 percent of the nation’s cars and trucks to EVs. Most notably, the Green New Deal that has been championed by lawmakers such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) calls for “reaching 100 percent renewable energy for electricity and transportation by no later than 2030.” 

While these goals certainly should be lauded, the fact is that we are in a hyper-partisan world and if Democrats lose their House and Senate majorities in November there will be two or more years of getting little done to address them.  

If gas prices continue to stay above $4 a gallon nationally, Americans’ views on EVs could change. Whether that means they become more or less favorable toward EVs, however, is anyone’s guess. But for now, our polling finds that many Americans have their doubts about EVs. This reality is something that lawmakers should keep in mind as we approach the midterm elections and address future energy challenges.

Stefan Hankin is founder and president of Lincoln Park Strategies, a research and polling firm in Washington. Follow him on Twitter @LPStrategies.

Tags 2022 midterms Climate change Electric vehicles progressive Democrats

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