Confronted with exorbitant gasoline prices, a wide spectrum of Americans are expressing support for oil and natural gas drilling in protected coastal and wilderness areas, according to a recent poll conducted by ABC News, Planet Green and Stanford University.

The poll revealed that 63% of those surveyed supported expanding oil and gas exploration and production in the federal Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), while 55% favored drilling in wilderness areas in the United States.

An estimated 64% now rate “finding new energy sources” as more important than improving conservation — up nine points since 2001, the poll said. It noted that previous polls had shown the broadest support for alternative energy, such as wind, solar and hydro power. The new level of support for oil drilling and reduced objection to nuclear power reflect the public’s concern with the current energy situation.

The poll results mirror the position of Senate and House Republicans, who prior to their August break called on Democrats to schedule a vote to lift the 27-year-old congressional moratorium on drilling in much of the OCS, including the East and West coasts and parts of the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Republicans and Democrats are at a standoff on the issue.

The poll also signals broad support (55%) for imposing windfall profits tax on oil and gas companies, and backs measures aimed at restricting speculation by energy traders.

On the issue of pollution, there was wide support for a cap-and-trade system to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Two-thirds of those surveyed said the federal government should act to reduce global warming even if other counties refuse to do the same.

The public was evenly divided (43%-45%) over who would do a better job of cutting greenhouse gas emissions — the government, through laws intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or businesses, through market competition. Nonetheless, 61% said the federal government should do more than it’s doing now to try to reduce global warming.

Environmentalism remains a political plus, the poll noted. Surveyed individuals by 42% to 6% said they would be more likely to support a presidential candidate who is a strong environmentalist. And 72% said they are trying to reduce energy consumption, including using less gasoline.

The poll surveyed 1,000 adults via telephone between July 23 and July 28. The results have a sampling error of plus or minus 3%.

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