One-Sided Keystone XL Poll Tells the Story Big Oil Wants You To Hear

Cross-posted from the Sierra Club

After a weekend during which tens of thousands of Americans took to the streets to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline and demand solutions to the climate crisis, the American Petroleum Institute (API) is touting a one-sided poll they claim shows Americans supporting the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline.

However, a closer look at their poll questions unveils a biased survey which failed to equip respondents with the basic facts of the project before asking them to form an opinion. Instead, API crafted a poll to ensure they got the types of answers they were looking for by totally ignoring the environmental and economic realities of the toxic pipeline from Canada.

You can see the questionnaire for yourself here (PDF). And you’ll notice that poll respondents are presented with all types of arguments for the pipeline, but not a single argument against Keystone XL. In fact, the survey doesn’t even mention the words “tar sands” at all. Without the proper context, people who had never heard of Keystone XL before could easily associate the pipeline with conventional oil — not the toxic, more carbon-intensive tar sands oil that Keystone XL would transport. Furthermore, there is no mention of the grave risks Keystone XL poses. API’s survey ignores any discussion of possible oil spills, drinking water contamination, or climate-disrupting pollution — just to name a few.


The poll also primes respondents to believe that Keystone XL tar sands oil is destined for the U.S. marketplace — rather than noting that it is effectively an export pipeline that pumps tar sands oil through the U.S. to get to the global marketplace. By failing to mention that much of the tar sands oil coming through Keystone XL will be shipped overseas, the survey allows respondents to assume that this oil is destined for the United States and will improve our energy security.

Here’s the kicker: Polling conducted by Hart Research last year showed that once American voters hear both the pro and con arguments about the Keystone XL pipeline, they support President Obama’s decision to deny the permit for the pipeline by a 47 percent to 36 percent margin. This poll, which surveyed 1,000 voters in the swing states of Colorado, Michigan, Iowa and Ohio, showed that voters were especially worried about the risks to water quality and supplies from tar sands pipeline spills. Moreover, the arguments of API and other Keystone XL supporters were found to be much less powerful once voters learned that much of the tar sands oil will be exported and consumed overseas.

API’s polling instrument is incomplete and one-sided, so it’s difficult to take any meaning from it — though that doubtlessly won’t stop API from declaring it as “proof” Americans want this project. But what this poll is “proof” of is that it’s easy to win a one-sided debate. But Americans deserve to know these critical — and basic — facts about Keystone XL before being asked to form an opinion about it.

— Grace McRae, Sierra Club Polling and Research Strategist