Oil firms do better under Democrats. So why do they give 8x as much money to Republicans?

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The fossil-fuel industry has long given more money to Republicans than Democrats, but in this presidential campaign it has skewed far further: from 2-to-1 or 4-to-1 in the past, the ratio of campaign donations is now at 8-to-1 in the Republicans’ favour (see chart above). Yet the industry has in fact fared better under recent Democratic than Republican presidents, according to a new investment bank report.

In a Sept. 27 note to clients, Oppenheimer’s Fadel Gheit writes that each party has held the White House for half of the last 24 years. Under Democrats, the exchange-traded index of leading oil and gas companies, called XOI, rose an average of 9% a year. Under Republicans, the XOI rose 7% annually.

ExxonMobil specifically (the industry’s second-largest contributor to Republican causes, with $1.8 million poured into the campaign) has had a 10% average annual rise in its share price under Democrats, and 7% under Republicans, Gheit writes. (Consumers have fared better under Democrats as well: crude oil prices rose 10% a year under Republicans over the last quarter century, compared with 7% under Democrats. Natural gas prices rose 6% a year under Republicans, compared with just 2% under Democrats.)

Yet the industry and its supporters have spent $31.6 million to support Republicans and unseat Democrats in this election cycle, or 89% of the $42.6 million spent on all candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based watchdog group. And that is only direct spending on candidates. In addition, the industry and its supporters have poured $153 million into television ads defending oil, gas and coal, compared with $41 million by clean energy advocates, according a study by The New York Times.

The industry is not only picking on Obama—since 1990, oil and gas companies and their employees have focused some 78% of their political contributions on Republican candidates, or $239 million of the $319 million that they spent.

So what explains the industry’s election contribution decisions? In the current election cycle, Republican candidates generally support opening up closed federal land and coastal areas to wide-scale oil and gas drilling; they also by and large support coal mining. Obama and Democrats generally have been big backers of federal support for renewable fuels such as solar and wind, in order to scale back US consumption of fossil fuels.

But that is not everything. There is also “visceral disdain, beyond dislike” for Obama, John Hofmeister, the former president of Shell USA, told me. “He’s basically viewed as a know-nothing, empty suit by the industry, using whatever language he needs to so that people think he’s engaged and doing something,” Hofmeister said in an email exchange. “In meetings with energy executives that I have all the time, it doesn’t take much to get people to a level of angst about Obama that some spit and some just curse.”

With polls showing Obama holding a consistent and growing lead over Republican Mitt Romney, industry leaders are preparing for what comes next, which, if the president does win re-election, apparently will be continued staunch opposition to his energy policies. “[Oil and gas industry] people will grind their teeth, curse in private and public, say to one another that they’ll have to open their wallets to work against Obama’s efforts, and basically wait him out,” Hofmeister said. “No one expects him to reach out in victory and offer to work together on the nation’s future energy.”

The industry will take the long view. “The industry will concentrate on what it does [best]–fight the good fight to resist Obama and his directions,” said Hofmeister, “and come out the other end in reasonably good shape with momentum on their side because the public will be so upset at the lack of energy leadership that gets us to where we’ll be.”