The disconnect between what voters say they care about and what they’re seeing on TV lies in the money behind the ads, much of it coming from oil and gas interests. Those funders get the double benefit of attacking Obama at the same time they are promoting their industry.
Democrats also have spent millions on the subject, defending the president’s record and tying Republican candidate Mitt Romney to “Big Oil.”
Overall, more than $41 million, about one in four of the dollars spent on broadcast advertising in the presidential campaign, has gone to ads mentioning energy, more than a host of other subjects and just as much as health care, according to ad-tracking firm Kantar Media/Cmag.
In an election focused heavily on jobs and the economy, all of this attention to energy seems a bit off topic. But the stakes are high for energy producers and environmentalists, who are squared off over how much the government should regulate the industry. And attention has been heightened by a recent boom in production using new technologies such as fracking and horizontal drilling, as well as a spike in gas prices this spring just as the general election got underway.
When asked whether energy is important, more than half of voters say yes, according to recent polls. But asked to rank their top issues, fewer than 1 percent mention energy.
Still, so much spending focused on a topic low on the public agenda should not be a surprise, given the interest of the ad sponsors, said Bob Biersack, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
“It’s always been true that people’s financial involvement in politics tends to reinforce their self-interest,” he said.
The policy debate coincides with a flurry of criticism of the Obama administration’s loan guarantee for Solyndra, a bankrupt solar-power company that defaulted on more than $500 million. Among the company’s investors was the family foundation of a major donor to Obama.
“Half a billion in taxpayer money gone, and Obama said this was a model of growth,” says an ad from the conservative group Americans for Prosperity. “Tell President Obama that workers aren’t pawns in your political games.”
Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt said the campaign welcomed the fight over the administration’s energy policies, saying the president can win on the merits.
“This debate has offered us the chance to highlight the success of the president’s all-of-the-above energy strategy – domestic oil production at a 12-year high and our dependence on foreign oil at a 16-year low, domestic natural gas production at an all-time high and doubling our renewable energy production,” LaBolt said.