Support for offshore oil drilling, dirty energy production gets dispersed by BP oil disaster

In the wake of the largest oil disaster in U.S. history, two just released polls by USA Today/Gallup show that Americans are increasingly skeptical of increased offshore drilling — and increasingly support environmental protection.  In the one month since the April 20th explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig, support for more offshore drilling has dropped by nearly 20 percent – a big change in a short period of time.

Gallup pollster Jeffrey M. Jones notes that:

Americans’ support for increased offshore drilling has declined significantly since April, to the point that the public is now about evenly divided on the issue. President Obama’s decision to extend the moratorium on new offshore drilling is now more in line with Americans’ — and particularly Democrats’ — current views on drilling after the oil spill than before it, when Obama called for more drilling. The oil spill has also changed Americans’ attitudes on the trade-off between energy production and environmental protection — underscoring the challenges U.S. leaders will face in addressing such issues going forward.

Similarly, Americans favor protection of the environment over development of “oil, gas, and coal” by 55 percent to 39 percent.   This is the first time that environment lead energy development in over a year.

There have been big gains in support for the environment by Democrats and Independents between March and May 2010.  Republicans support for environmental remained static.

President Obama, Senator Lindsey Graham, and many other public officials have noted that economic development and environmental health go hand in hand.  Nonetheless, when forced to choose, Americans select environmental protection.  When it comes to choosing environmental protection or economic development, the former is more popular than the latter for the first time in two years.  And the biggest change from March to May 2010 was among independent voters.

Gallup pollster Jeffrey M. Jones concludes

The recent oil spill has spurred a significant shift in Americans’ environmental attitudes. For the last few years, Americans’ environmental concerns declined as the public placed a higher priority on pocketbook concerns like the economy and energy, likely due to the poor U.S. economy. However, in just two months’ time, that trend has reversed, and the pro-environment position has regained the strength it showed for most of the last decade.

The BP oil disaster has led to significant shift in public opinion in favor of environmental protection and against offshore oil drilling and coal production.  This presents a unique opportunity to reduce oil use, establish more protections for offshore oil drilling, invest in clean energy, and cut pollution.  The Senate has an opportunity to act in concert with public opinion.  Senators can do well by doing good.

Guest blogger Daniel J. Weiss is a Senior Fellow and Director of Climate Strategy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

13 Responses to Support for offshore oil drilling, dirty energy production gets dispersed by BP oil disaster

  1. Robert Brulle says:

    This shift is exactly what we would expect. Night after night of graphic visual images at the lead of the nightly news drives up public concern over environmental issues. The longer and more graphic the images, the bigger the shift.

    But what goes up will come down. When the spill subsides, the media will turn elsewhere, and public concern will follow the media’s coverage. So there is a time-limited window for action.

  2. MarkB says:

    The recent CBS poll actually shows 45-46 support – the first time I’ve seen more oppose than support it.

    I have to agree with Robert, although I think “Drill, Baby, Drill” is a fanatical chant that will be mostly absent for quite awhile. I think governing and running on a platform of proceeding very carefully with offshore drilling and tightening safety standards, while emphasizing that a move towards low carbon sources is critical (for many reasons), is a winning one. Quite frankly, that’s where Obama was at the start of his presidency.

    General environmental concern also appears inversely proportional to how the economy is doing, especially when the question is a false dichotomy. In that sense, given where unemployment is at the moment, a sharp increase in environmental concern is fairly notable. Is this happened during good economic times, it would be significantly higher.

    Lastly, there’s a bit of a double-edged sword to how the political right and most of the media is handling this incident. It went from “nothing to see here” to “there’s everything to see here and Obama’s failing”. The second strategy hurts Obama’s numbers, but at the same time lowers support for offshore drilling and increases environmental awareness. They know this but trying to bring Obama down is infinitely more important than anything else.

  3. Dean says:

    It also could change a lot of gas goes back up to $4 as is inevitable.

    I would like to see a geographic breakdown of these poll numbers. How much change has there been in inland areas where people don’t think about protecting the coastline because they don’t live near it.

  4. Mike #22 says:

    The Republicans did not budge even one percent! A list of possible reasons, in no particular order, might include: their media sources are misstating the situation in the Gulf; they don’t care about the Gulf’s ecology; they don’t care about the Gulf’s economy; they are suspicious of this environmental issue or think its overhyped by media or government; they don’t trust the media or the government on any issue; they identify with wealthy corporations; they are resolutely pro fossil fuel; they are taking the party line when answering this poll rather than expressing their own view.

    Weird. Like they are all tuned into to the same radio station playing Drill Baby Drill.

  5. Robert Brulle says:

    I don’t imagine Gallup did enough polling to break down the responses by state. But I did a quick look via Google Trends. If you use this tool, you can see the extent of specific google searches. The results today for oil spill showed the following distribution:
    1. Alaska, United States
    2. Louisiana, United States
    3. Alabama, United States
    4. Mississippi, United States
    5. Florida, United States
    6. Arkansas, United States
    7. Tennessee, United States
    8. Oklahoma, United States
    9. Georgia, United States
    10. District of Columbia, United States

    Clearly the big interest in the spill is in the Gulf region.

  6. Chris Winter says:
    Reuters: BP well disaster stuns hardened oil men

    Even energy lobbyists are changing their tack. Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, readily conceded at a debate in San Francisco last week that what happened with the Horizon was a “game-changer.”

  7. Leif says:

    This BP-MESS is costing the rest of the Fossil Fuel industry a lot of money in lost share value, public good will, political clout, and much more. It was caused by one of their own, but they are smart enough to know that it could have been any one of them. BIG financial losses could not happen to more appropriate people. Maybe some may lose so much that a few will turn into Human Beings!

    Any chance?

  8. hapa says:

    need to know how many supporters of drilling think it will have significant effect on fuel costs. people are definitely concerned about buying oil from enemies; i don’t know how many people are afraid of another embargo. some polls have said as many a 2/3rds of us think drilling will save us money.

  9. robhon says:

    This is going to be REALLY interesting to watch how the energy game plays out after this. We all know that in the coming 2 years we are going to see most every major car company introducing electric vehicles, and most expanding their line of hybrids. This is going to be another game changer right on the heels of this game changing oil spill. AND this is all on the heels of two long wars in the Middle East.

    I don’t know about you guys but I’d be putting my money into renewable energy company stocks.

    I can also hear the next BP board meeting… “Hey, weren’t we working on some clean energy stuff at one time?”

  10. prokaryote says:

    We still depend on oil because oil corporations collaborated to prevent clean energy solution earlyer. And because of this the consumer had not a lot of choices. People love clean energy solution. They just have to learn to use renewable energy and upgrade their vehicle or get a new.

    There is a huge economic potential for everybody here, with the power to create a new economy – something fossil energy can no longer provide.

  11. MarkB says:

    Hapa (#8) notes what’s entirely missing from the debate as played out in the media. Yes – the environmental concern is front and center now, as it should be. But the biggest public misconception with offshore drilling is the belief that more of it will have more than a negligible impact on gas prices. The DoE studies are pretty clear. Why doesn’t the public get it? Why is it that even well-educated people fall for political propaganda?

  12. sailrick says:

    Perhaps one the most important questions is -how much will this help Democrats in the midterm elections?

  13. School Marm says:

    Maybe it’s just me but I see mostly bad news here. Half the people in the US are still so ecolgically ignorant they don’t understand the most basic issues to do with the local ecology or the biosphere. The % of people supporting the environment over the economy is not even back up to what it used to be when almost nothing was being done to solve the most urgent ecological problems we have. Republicans have not budged. And even when people support ecological ideas in polls they tolerate only very limited spending or regulation in its favor. So far, at no time, even in the 70s, has it been enough to reverse the destruction of nearly every aspect of the biosphere.

    The questions are still being put in the mode of the false dichotomy between economy and ecology. There may have been some mythical time when there was a tradeoff but we have sliced away nature and all of nature’s regulatory mechanisms to the point where every bit of ecology that’s left is absolutely necessary to the economy, and nothing else can be destroyed without damaging both oikos and oikos. One major party is absolutely opposed to any sort of environmental protection, let alone paying for it; the other’s support is so tepid and visibly ignorant that it might as well be… well, what it is–the center-left wing of the Tea Party. It seems like time to give up on the 2 corporate parties and do something real.