By Emma White
May 25, 2011

With gas topping $4 a gallon in many places, the prevailing wisdom in DC suggests that calling for more domestic oil drilling is a political winner for politicians, and those who oppose new drilling will pay a political price. President Obama embraced this perspective last week, offering his own plan to expand offshore oil drilling in Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic seaboard.

It is certainly true that many Americans are open to increasing offshore drilling in the U.S. The Pew Research Center found in March, when gas prices had already risen sharply, that 57% favor allowing increased oil and gas drilling in U.S. waters.

But opposition to new drilling need not be a political loser. Our polling for NRDC in April of this year shows that when offered a choice between two candidates on their energy policy, the candidate who says drilling will cut gas prices loses out to a candidate who blames the oil companies for high gas prices and lays out alternatives to oil:

Yes, Americans want gas prices to be lower, and if politicians promise that drilling will lower prices they are willing to give it a try. But our research over the years on energy issues has shown us that Americans want much more than cheaper gas:

If politicians want to stand firm for these principles, the public will reward them for countering calls to drill with a cleaner energy future that will free Americans from the oil companies.

Emma White is a senior analyst in the public opinion research and strategic communications firm Belden Russonello Strategists in Washington.