Given the relentless push by friends of the fossil fuel industry in Congress to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, you might think that this was an overwhelmingly popular project with the American people. Yet, according to recent polling by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, that doesn't appear to be the case.
Americans are divided about whether the pipeline should be built. 31% of Americans say they favor the building of the pipeline and 18% oppose its construction. Meanwhile, half of Americans haven’t made up their mind: 31% say they neither favor nor oppose the Keystone XL pipeline, while 19% say they are not sure whether they favor or oppose it (19%).
Americans are split along party lines, with Republicans significantly more likely to support building the pipeline than Democrats (51% vs. 15%).
In short, Americans are deeply divided on this Canadian tar sands export project, with just 31% favoring it. Perhaps most surprisingly, given the huge amounts of money that pro-Keystone forces have spent in pushing this project to the public, most Americans have no opinion one way or the other on Keystone, or aren't sure whether they favor or oppose it. Also somewhat surprising is that all that pro-Keystone propaganda doesn't seem to be increasing public support for the pipeline. For instance, the Yale/AP-NORC polling finds significantly lower support for this pipeline than a November Pew poll showing 59% support for Keystone. Even more striking, both the Pew and Yale/AP-NORC results from late 2014 indicate a shap drop in public support for Keystone, for instance compared to a March 2014 Washington Post-ABC News poll, which found 65% support for Keystone.
Is support for Keystone softening? Based on the polling noted above, that certainly appears to be the case. Why might that be? First, perhaps the facts about this pipeline's potential environmental and economic harm are getting out more broadly. Second, the recent plunge in oil prices may very well have made Americans less willing to support a dirty tar sands export project than they once were. Regardless of the reason, it's clear that Keystone - in addition to being a loser on policy grounds - isn't the political winner it once might have seemed to be. Hopefully, Congress and President Obama are receiving this message loud and clear.