Yesterday, Congress passed a bipartisan bill approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline, capping a sluggish, weeks-long debate in both chambers. The legislation now heads to President Barack Obama, who has made clear his intention to veto the measure.
However, vetoing the bill won’t kill the project; it will simply keep the pipeline in a ongoing review that has lasted more than six-years.
A new Morning Consult poll finds the public divided over the Obama’s next steps. When it comes to the specific issue at hand – which institution gets to decide the fate of the project – a slight plurality of voters say that the White House should retain its authority:
According to federal law, the executive branch must approve a trans-national infrastructure project. Forty-four percent of Americans say Obama should be allowed to complete his review of the project. Forty-three percent say the pipeline should be authorized now, and 13 percent have no opinion. These findings contradict a recent poll sponsored by the Washington Post and ABC News, which found that that 61 percent of Americans support allowing Obama to complete his review of the project before deciding.
That survey left out a key fact: the pipeline has been under review for six years, up to three times longer than it normally takes the White House to approve similar projects. When that was mentioned, our poll shows the public is split.
Opinions were largely split on party lines. A strong majority of Democrats, 65 percent, said the president should be allowed to complete his review, while an identical majority of Republicans, 65 percent, said the pipeline should be built now. Independents were split, with 44 percent saying build it now compared to 41 percent who said leave it to Obama.
Several polls, including our own, have confirmed that approving Keystone is a popular policy position. The results support the notion that Robert Dillon, a spokesperson for the Senate Energy Committee laid out during an interview: Obama is catering to an extremist far-left bloc of his supporters by delaying his decision.
But the Obama administration has remained resolute in its position that Keystone’s fate should be left to the president. “We are opposed to any legislative maneuver that would circumvent a process that’s been in place for decades,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said in a press conference following the Senate’s passage of the bill.
For lawmakers, the Morning Consult survey results suggest that Keystone isn’t quite a no-brainer: voters are ambivalent about the president’s next steps, regardless of how they feel about the pipeline. In any case, when it comes to who gets to decide the fate of the pipeline, the public splits among familiar lines.
This poll was conducted from January 30 through February 01, 2015, among a national sample of 1684 registered voters. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.