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Americans Green-Light Higher Fuel Efficiency Standards

By Anna Fahey
Why are journalists telling a totally different (and backwards) story?

A recent Gallup Poll reveals solid majority support for higher fuel efficiency standards such as those President Obama announced Tuesday. A March poll found 80 percent of Americans in favor of higher standards. So, why are reporters painting a picture only of consumer woe and sacrifice when it comes to this landmark announcement?

Obama launched his proposal along with state governors from both sides of the aisle -- and public support is refreshingly bipartisan. While Democrats show more widespread support for higher fuel efficiency standards, 72 percent of Republicans also say they are in favor (see graph below). But a big AP story (front page of the Seattle Times, Wednesday) and a USA Today story -- along with all kinds of other coverage -- dwell almost exclusively on a litany of trumped up downsides: increased consumer costs, soccer moms jamming their families into smaller cars, and compromises on choice and safety for the sake of efficiency. This is odd when the proposal will encourage more consumer choice and more efficiency -- exactly what Americans seem to want.

Buried deep in these stories is the important factor that Obama has stressed, that the upfront cost increase (estimated to be $1,300 per vehicle) would quickly be offset by savings at thepump. He estimated a more fuel-efficient vehicle will pay off in as little as threeyears, and that over the vehicle's life the typical driver would save
around $2,800.

Not surprisingly, according to Gallup, Americans who feel more strongly about the environment are more likely to support higher standards. But, even Americans who are not particularly worried about the environment or global warming also favor higher fuel standards: three-quarters of each group -- those who say they put the economy over the environment; those who don't believe global warming will affect them in their lifetime; and those who believe that environmental quality is excellent or good.

So, why all this media frenzy about guys not being able to drive trucks anymore, about small cars being unsafe, and about Obama driving the final nail in the auto industry's coffin? Americans don't want any more gas guzzlers. We can't afford it. We want efficient choices. And Detroit should listen. Well, now they will have to.

This isn't -- I repeat -- is not a case of environmentalists vs. everybody else as USA Today and others would have it. It's everybody -- except the media -- saying enough is enough.

Update, 5/22/09: Over at the Daily Show, Jon Stewart spoofs this fear-mongering reaction by media (3:45 minutes into the show). Here's how he put it: "What's it gonna be, America? Mileage or...THE LIVES OF YOUR FAMILY?" Nice.

This piece originally appeared in Sightline Institute's blog, The Daily Score.

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News about lack of safety seemed so one sided- only big "behemoths" were safe. Excuse me? About 3/4 of the vehicles around my town are small. Nothing was said about superior handling or difficulty avoidance in small cars. Weird.

I specifically want a 3-wheel car; a newer version of the 1993 City-el (Germany) that I currently drive. But I doubt nearby businesses will carry those. When safety issues were announced; that probably doomed 3-wheel cars to any majority of people.

Very strange outlooks on our automotive industry!

Posted by: Chris Jordan on 24 May 09

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