How Oil Spill Changed Public Opinion on Offshore Drilling

How many think environmentalists caused the spill?

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The disastrous oil spill still spreading through the Gulf of Mexico has endangered the Gulf ecology, raised serious questions about offshore drilling oversight, and hindered the Senate's climate change legislation. But it's also had a big effect on public opinion on offshore drilling, which President Obama had earlier pledged to expand. What exactly that effect is and what it means is up for debate.

  • Republicans Favor Offshore Drilling Even More  Public Policy Polling's Tom Jensen calls it an "astounding" number: "28% of Republicans said the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico made them more likely to support drilling off the coast to an equal 28% who said it made them less likely to be supportive."
  • 9% Think Environmentalists Caused Spill  The Raw Story's John Byrne's jaw drops. "Ten percent of Americans believe environmentalists intentionally sabotaged the oil rig Deepwater Horizon off the Gulf Coast ... Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh floated the idea on his nationally syndicated talk show." In addition, 22% are "unsure" about the conspiracy theory, with 69% believing it to be false.
  • Less Support for Increasing Offshore Drilling  A CBS News poll reports 46% want increased offshore drilling, down from 62% in August 2008. According to the more recent poll, 63% of Republicans want more offshore drilling, compared to 34% of Democrats and 45% of Independents.
  • Offshore Drilling Opponents Must Make Case  Daily Kos' Jed Lewison interprets the above poll, "BP's oil spill has convinced roughly one in five Americans that the cost of extracting oil from offshore drilling -- in terms of environmental and economic devastation -- is much higher than they had previously believed. Nonetheless, a plurality continues to support more offshore drilling, likely because they overestimate the benefits of doing so. Therefore, it's important to underscore that even in the best case scenario, an expansion of offshore drilling will hardly make a dent in satisfying our energy needs."
  • Proves Climate Change Bill Should Pass  The Washington Post's Greg Sargent sees "More proof Dems should keep banging the energy drum: A new CBS News poll finds that the Gulf spill has caused a massive drop in support for offshore drilling, underscoring yet again how absurd it is that it has made energy reform less likely to pass the Senate."
  • Floridians Turn Against Offshore Drilling  Think Progress' Zaid Jilani writes, "in the wake of the oil disaster, 55 percent of Floridians now oppose offshore oil drilling, a complete reversal from polling conducted last year."
  • Decreased Faith in Federal Government  Politics Daily's Bruce Drake points out why Democrats might not have such good political news in the oil spill. "Support for offshore drilling has dropped in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and a majority of Americans give negative marks to the federal government and BP, the company that leased the rig, for their response to the environmental disaster." 33% call the government's response excellent or good; 54% say only fair or poor. "Those negative marks were comparable to the public's dim view of the federal government response to Katrina in 2005 when 58 percent rated it poor or only fair."
  • How Bloggers Poll  Conservative blogger David Kopel notes, "The latest National Journal poll of political bloggers asked: 'With the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, does it make political sense for President Obama to stick to his plans to allow increased oil and gas development along the coasts?' Only 6% of the Left, but 75% of the Right thought that it did still make political sense."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.