American Want New Energy at Old Prices: Poll
Poll Finds Deep Concern About Energy and Economy
The New York Times, June 22, 2010
Overwhelmingly, Americans think the nation needs a fundamental overhaul of its energy policies, and most expect alternative forms to replace oil as a major source within 25 years. Yet a majority are unwilling to pay higher gasoline prices to help develop new fuel sources.
Those are among the findings of the latest nationwide New York Times/CBS News poll.
The poll, which examines the public’s reaction to the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, highlights some of the complex political challenges the Obama administration faces. For instance, despite intense news coverage and widespread public concern about the economic and ecological damage from the gulf disaster, most Americans remain far more concerned about jobs and the nation’s overall economy.
And in that regard, President Obama does not fare well: 54 percent of the public say he does not have a clear plan for creating jobs, while only 34 percent say he does, an ominous sign heading into this fall’s midterm elections.
Respondents were nearly evenly split on the president’s handling of the economy — 45 percent approve, 48 percent disapprove. His job approval rating remains just below 50 percent. And by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, Americans think the country is on the wrong track.
They are also impatient with Mr. Obama’s response to the oil disaster in the gulf, by a large margin, and attribute the spill to risks taken by BP and its partners in the failed well, according to the poll, which was conducted by telephone from June 16 to 2o with 1,259 adults.
The survey included an in-depth look at the attitudes of people most directly affected by the oil spill — those living in counties in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi that border the Gulf of Mexico.
Gulf Coast residents, whose communities are most affected by the leak and whose livelihoods have been linked to oil for generations, are more likely than Americans over all to say they are confident that those who were affected by the spill will be fairly compensated by BP. A majority say the Obama administration has a lot or some control over whether BP will pay for the damages caused by the spill. Last week, the president received a promise from BP executives to create a $20 billion fund to pay damage claims from the accident.
Gulf Coast residents are also more likely than other Americans to support increased drilling off the coastlines of the United States.
By a large margin, the public over all said more regulation of offshore drilling to protect the environment was needed, but respondents were also more likely to attribute the BP accident to a failure of the federal government to enforce existing rules than to a lack of adequate regulation.
Reba Davis, 78, a retired vocational nurse in Abilene, Tex., one of the poll respondents, said she believed that BP took shortcuts to save money in drilling the doomed well, but she also said the government needed to take a stronger hand in overseeing offshore operations.
“The responsibility totally lies with BP and the regulatory system in our country, which is pretty slim and needs to be ramped up and enforced,” Mrs. Davis said in a follow-up telephone interview.
Large majorities disapprove of the way BP is handling the spill and have little faith in the oil industry generally to act in the public interest. By a 2-to-1 margin, they trust the federal government more than BP to handle the cleanup efforts in the gulf.
Yet they also think the Obama administration could be doing more to fix the damage from the leak. Fifty-nine percent said Mr. Obama did not have a clear plan for dealing with the spill.
Lewis Cullen, 78, an insurance executive who retired to Orange Beach, Ala., said the spill had slashed the value of his home. “If I wanted to sell my property I couldn’t, and anyway it would be worth half of what it was last year,” Mr. Cullen said. “It’s going to take years for this to go away. I read there’s a good possibility they won’t be able to stop it ever.”
The dependence of local residents on gulf-related industries like fishing and oil is evident in the poll. About 3 in 10 said they or someone in their household worked in those industries.
They are divided on the benefits of the government’s six-month moratorium on offshore drilling put into place after the Deepwater Horizon blowout, while the majority of Americans think it is a good idea.
Two months after the rig explosion and fire, just 18 percent of Americans think that BP will be able to stop the leak in the next month. Instead, about half, 48 percent, think it will take the oil company several more months; 16 percent think it will take a year or longer; and 7 percent say the company will never be able to stop the leak.
Respondents who live in the counties in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi that have been most affected by the oil spill gave similar responses.
Yet optimism is resilient. Two-thirds of all Americans, including about the same proportion of Gulf Coast residents, say that despite severe environmental damage, the fish, birds, turtles and other wildlife of the region will recover. And about 8 in 10 Americans, including more than 7 in 10 Gulf Coast residents, say the region’s economy, including businesses like tourism and fishing, will eventually bounce back.
The longer that people think the oil will continue to leak, the less likely they are to think that the region’s ecology and economy will recover. Still, even among those who think the leak will continue for another year or longer, most are optimistic.
Two-thirds of those living along the Gulf Coast say they have been affected by the oil spill; a third say they have been directly affected, and another third indirectly affected. They cite lost jobs and income and damage to local fisheries as the main consequences of the spill. Forty-five percent are very concerned that they or someone in their household will be unemployed in the coming year. Eight in 10 gulf residents say their communities are suffering financially.
“Obama has put a moratorium on deep-well drilling, and it’s going to kill us,” said Barbara Hebert, 71, of Houma, La., a retired nurse anesthetist. “Next year this is going to be a ghost town. We don’t want the industry shut down. Just go over the plans and see that safety issues are taken care of.”