SOTU: Voters’ Real-Time Opinions on Keystone

This is the first in a three-part series on voters’ real-time reactions to President Obama’s energy comments in the State of the Union. For Part Two: Energy Independence, click here. For Part Three: Climate Change, click here.

During last week’s State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama said little about the long-disputed Keystone XL pipeline. But his backhanded one-liner on the project –“Let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline” – was among the more memorable quotes of the night.

And a new Morning Consult survey found that voters overwhelmingly supported that statement, with 67 percent of voters logging a positive reaction to the comment.

Results from the survey were calculated using a 30-second clip of the president’s remarks. During the video, respondents used their mouse to pull a dial along a scale ranging from “Favorable” to “Unfavorable” to indicate how they felt about what the president was saying.

Here’s a time-lapse chart of the responses:

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At the beginning of the segment, Obama is talking about improving infrastructure. As he mentions “modern ports and stronger bridges, faster trains and the fastest internet,” respondents from all backgrounds recorded increasingly positive feedback.

But when the president alluded to the Keystone XL pipeline by saying “let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline,” Republican support quickly drops off. Democrats and Independent voters, however, continue to log increasingly positive reactions.

As Obama transitions into talking about passing a bipartisan infrastructure bill, Republican support ticks up again, but does not recover to the level prior to the pipeline mention.

So what’s to be learned here? As previous polling suggests, the issue of Keystone isn’t as polarizing for the American public as either side makes it out to be.

When you ask Americans if they approve building the Keystone pipeline, nearly two-thirds give the project the green light, according to a Morning Consult survey. A majority also agrees that Congress should force the president’s hand on Keystone. Most voters also oppose Obama vetoing a Keystone the approval bill.

But a recent Washington Post / ABC poll also finds that 61 percent of voters think the president should be allowed to complete his review of the project before deciding if the pipeline is in the national interest. And our dial test shows that aiming for more than “a single oil pipeline,” as the president put it, resonates with independent voters.

While the political debate over Keystone goes on, particularly in the Senate, the market is marching past the pipeline. Additional pipelines are transporting tar sands crude through to the Gulf of Mexico since December. And TransCanada, the company behind Keystone, plans to build an even bigger pipeline that would transport the Alberta-oil to the Atlantic coast. Further, low oil prices may be weakening the case for Keystone, as it’s not economic to develop the tar sands at current market prices.


Morning Consult