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By Neela Banerjee, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Nearly half of Democrats favor granting a permit for the construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, according to a poll released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

The $5.3 billion pipeline, which would ship oil from Hardisty, Canada, to Steele City, Neb., has undergone five years of reviews to get a presidential permit needed for infrastructure projects that cross a United States border. Environmentalists and some major Democratic donors and activists have opposed the pipeline, contending it would worsen greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change.

President Barack Obama has said he would make a decision on the permit in the coming months. Democratic backing for the project could make it more difficult for Obama to turn down the permit in a difficult election year for the party.

The Pew poll showed that, despite the work of anti-pipeline activists, support for the project has remained solid, especially among Republicans and independents. Backers of the pipeline have argued that it would create jobs and secure more oil from a friendly, democratic country.

Overall, 61 percent of respondents favor building the pipeline, while 27 percent are opposed, a proportion that has held steady for the last year or so, according to Pew. About 49 percent of Democrats back the pipeline and 38 percent oppose it. The remaining 13 percent said they did not know.

The poll was conducted from Feb. 27 to March 16 among 3,335 adults, with a margin of error of 2.0 percentage points.

Previous polls also showed that Democrats backed the project by small margins. But this poll also revealed the demographic lines along which Democratic views on Keystone XL broke down.

Democrats who had a college degree or more education were more likely to oppose it, 47 percent against the project versus 39 percent for it. Those with annual household incomes greater than $100,000 were most opposed, at 51 percent.

Democrats who had some college, a high school diploma or less favored the project. The poorest Democrats, whose annual income was $50,000 or less, favored the project most, at 54 percent.

Those Democrats who identified as liberals were more prone to be against the project than moderates and conservatives.

The majority of Democratic men and pluralities of women, blacks and whites all support granting the project the permit.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

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