WASHINGTON -- Half of Americans believe there is a real energy shortage in this country -- a significant increase from last summer, according to an Associated Press poll.
Most of those surveyed, however, said they feel gas prices are reasonable.
The energy poll conducted for the AP by ICR of Media, Pa., found that 50 percent believe the energy shortage is real, while 41 percent doubt it.
''If there's not a shortage now, there's going to be,'' said retiree Richard Buchanan of Massachusetts. ''We're using up our resources.''
Last summer, only a third felt the shortage was real, while more than half were skeptical.
The shift in public sentiment hasn't affected the level of support for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Just over a third favor that Bush administration plan, while more than half oppose it. That's about the same sentiment people had a year ago.
''I'm against it because there are probably enough other sources of energy than oil,'' said Marguerite Purcell, a medical technologist from Stuartsville, N.J. ''I don't think they're pursuing it because of the oil industry and the car manufacturers.''
The Senate is set to debate sweeping energy legislation next week. The House has already passed an energy bill that would include drilling in the refuge, but that proposal has run into problems in the Senate.
Older Americans are more supportive of drilling in the refuge. Only a fourth of young adults approve it, while half of those over 65 think it's a good idea. Republicans are twice as likely as Democrats to support it.
''The drilling can be done safely and we need the energy,'' said 50-year-old Joe Vanderhamm, a Republican who works in real estate in Fort Worth, Texas.
The public doesn't have a clear picture of how much oil is imported. More than half of those polled said the United States gets about 75 percent of its oil from other countries.
The country imports just over half its oil from other countries now, but the percentage has been rising gradually in recent years. Only a third of those polled guessed that figure.
The cost of gasoline is not causing much concern these days, the poll suggests. Two-thirds said they think the price is reasonable; in spring 1996, two-thirds said it was unreasonable.
At that time, sharply rising prices had sparked a political debate about how to rein them in before the vacation season. Gasoline prices have dropped sharply over the last year because of abundant supply and declining crude oil prices.
''I think they're fairly reasonable,'' said Alice Krostag, a retiree from Kiel, Wis. ''It's a lot higher in Europe.''
Not surprisingly, concerns about gas prices rise steadily as incomes get lower. Blacks were more likely than whites to think prices are too high.
More than four in 10 of those polled said the energy industry has too much influence in the Bush administration, while about a fourth, 28 percent, said it has about the right amount of influence.
Those between the ages of 45 and 54 were most likely -- about six in 10 -- to be suspicious about the influence of the energy industry on the administration.
''I would assume there would be too much influence because he's an oil man,'' said the 46-year-old Purcell. ''I just hope he doesn't think with his pocketbook.''
The poll of 1,016 was taken from Feb. 22-26 and has an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
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