How the Oil Industry Manufactured the Myth of the 'Energy Voter'

YouTube/Screen capture

A new batch of TV ads funded by the American Petroleum Institute have hit the airwaves: Nice, ordinary-looking faces fill the screen, each of which proclaims, "I vote." They then rattle off a talking point or two about energy security and why we need to keep drilling for more gas and oil. These people, the campaign insinuates, are "Energy Voters".

Voters who will be enraged if, say, anyone tries too hard to remove federal oil subsidies. Or if Obama decides to deny (or just delay again) approval for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Think of them as polite, more refined drill-baby-drillers.

Problem is, they don't really exist. Not in any form remotely close to what's portrayed above, anyway. There are voters who want energy security, energy independence, sure – but those are the same voters who support more clean energy, too. (The ad attempts to allude to that in the now-pervasive 'we need all kinds of energy' rhetoric)

No, this ad says that there are droves of normal, mild-mannered, exceedingly reasonable voters who will turn against candidates who aren't eminently supportive of expanding the extraction and use of fossil fuels. But these people are either a) directly or indirectly employed by the fossil fuels industry or b) fictional. The folks you see in the ad above are the latter – they're actors reading scripts, of course.

The real Energy Voters look more like the ones in Greenpeace's Vote-4-Energy parody ad:

Furthermore, if those 'Energy Voters' were real, then they'd likely be educated with actual facts, not oil industry propaganda. They'd know that Obama has expanded domestic drilling beyond even the fossil fuel-friendly Bush administration. That domestic oil production has increased over the last few years. So those Energy Voters should be more than satisfied with Obama, the ostensible target of the ads.

But the reality is that this swing voter class is a deliberately manufactured illusion. Sure, plenty of people attack Obama's energy policies, but they're the same people who attack everything else he does. To paint fossil fuel production as some kind of a wedge issue is patently absurd. Nobody is going to change their vote to the 'Obama' column if he approves the tar sands pipeline, besides maybe (and that's a massive maybe) a handful of local labor union folks that want the jobs. And no average voter would change their mind about Obama if he were to, say, defend oil subsidies or open more coastline to drilling.

I should note that there is actually one true breed of Energy Voter–but they're renewable energy voters; environmentalists, activists, and citizens concerned about climate change who would support a candidate who extolled policies that limited carbon emissions and ushered in more solar and wind. It's not a huge contingent of voters by any means, relatively speaking, but it certainly eclipses the apocryphal fossil fuels energy voter.

Indeed, this whole conception of the Energy Voter is a product of the oil industry, who saw a mass movement gather momentum against the Keystone XL. They saw green groups promise to withhold support from Obama if he approved the project, saw him threatened with losing real votes. So they moved to fabricate a supposed voter who he'd lose if he didn't play ball with the oil industry. But it's nonsense. The so-called 'Energy Voter' is the oil industry, and little else.

Tags: Congress | Oil

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