NEW YORK Rising oil prices could force more than three-quarters of Americans to tighten up their budgets by cutting fuel use or by slashing spending elsewhere, according to a Reuters/Zogby poll.
Some 32.5 percent of people surveyed said they would drive less if oil prices kept rising, while 20.8 percent said they would try to conserve energy at home. Another 22.8 percent said they would cut spending on retail and entertainment.
"The combination of a steady rise in energy prices and the outlook that prices will continue rising has created a sense among Americans that a change in their behavior is right around the corner," said John Zogby.
U.S. crude oil prices have surged more than 40 percent since mid-August to near $100 a barrel amid tight stockpile levels in major consumer countries and an influx of speculative investment into commodities markets.
The rally has hit consumers by pulling nationwide average heating oil prices to a record $3.21 a gallon just ahead of winter, and by bringing pump prices to more than $3.00 a gallon for the first time outside the summer driving season.
Energy analysts have said high oil prices could add to U.S. economic turmoil and eventually dent world energy demand growth by slowing industry and discretionary spending.
More than 85 percent of people in the survey said they held the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries at least partly to blame for the soaring cost of fuel.
Some 16.1 percent said the cartel, which controls more than a third of the world oil market, was completely responsible. Another 31 percent said OPEC was mostly responsible and 38.4 percent said the group was only partly responsible.
Just 6.4 percent of people surveyed said OPEC was not at all responsible for higher oil prices.
OPEC has shrugged off calls from the United States and other consumer countries for additional oil to cool the red-hot oil market, saying supplies are adequate.
The producer group, which says speculators and a falling U.S. dollar are to blame for the rally in oil prices, will next meet December 5 to review output policy.
The poll of 1,009 people was conducted November 14 through November 17 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.
(Reporting by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Marguerita Choy)