As if the financial toll weren’t bad enough, the run-up in gasoline prices seems also to be making some consumers delusional. In a poll released last week by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, adults were asked to say whether they’ve done various things “lately” to cope with the higher pump prices. Predictably (and plausibly), large numbers said they’ve been driving less (70 percent), shopping around for the cheapest gas (69 percent) and adjusting the thermostat at home to cut their utility bills (64 percent). Less plausibly, 27 percent claimed they’d lately “bought a car that gets better gas mileage.” Unless one gives an awfully loose interpretation to the term lately, this would far exceed the number of people who’ve bought a car of any description within that period. Apparently, the wisdom of buying a fuel-efficient car is now so self-evident that millions of people think they must have done it, whether they actually have or not. The same poll suggests a modest uptick in anti-SUV sentiment among the general public. In a Newsweek survey conducted in November 2001 (i.e., shortly after 9/11), 42 percent of respondents said it was “very important” and 37 percent “somewhat important” that SUV owners switch to more fuel-efficient vehicles. In the new Pew survey, 48 percent said this is very important, and 31 percent said it’s somewhat important. The spectacle of SUV owners paying vast sums for a tank of gas may be so emotionally satisfying that many SUV detractors wouldn’t want to give it up.
—Posted by Mark Dolliver