President Obama announced the “expansion of offshore oil and gas exploration” this week, but in ways that would “balance the need to harness domestic energy resources and the need to protect America’s natural resources." Translated, at least as interpreted by Juliet Eilperin and Anne E. Kornblut of The Washington Post, this means that he refrained from opening up areas where the political push-back would be most intense.
Obama's general policy initiative on drilling looks like it will receive approbation from a majority of Americans. Our latest survey on the issue in 2008 found 57% approving of “allowing oil drilling in U.S. coastal and wilderness areas now off-limits to oil exploration.” (Important to note: the question was phrased in terms of steps that could be taken to “reduce the price of gasoline.”)
The Washington Post’s Jon Cohen brought our attention to a February Pew Research poll on the topic. That survey found similar results. The Pew question asked about “Allowing more offshore oil and gas drilling in U.S. waters” as a way of addressing America’s energy supplies, with 63% support.
In both instances, support for drilling was highest among Republicans, lower among independents, and lowest among Democrats. In our Gallup survey, the differences were fairly large: 80%, 56%, and 39%, respectively.
Keep in mind that support for Obama’s recently passed healthcare reform legislation was roughly the mirror image of that pattern. Highest support among Democrats, lowest among Republicans.
One, therefore, sees evidence here of a policy announcement on drilling that could perhaps defuse angry resistance to the previous outcome on healthcare. This is based on the shocking assumption that elected officials think about politics when making decisions and the timing of announcing them.
By the way, in our annual March environmental poll, we found that 50% of Americans believe that “development of U.S. energy supplies -- such as oil, gas, and coal -- should be given priority, even if the environment suffers to some extent,” while 43% say that “protection of the environment should be given priority, even at the risk of limiting the amount of energy supplies -- such as oil, gas, and coal -- which the United States produces.”
This is the strongest tilt in this direction in the nine years of asking this question. When we first asked it in 2001, 36% chose the “development of energy supplies” alternative compared to 52% who chose the protect the environment option.
In other words, these parlous economic times are ripe for the announcement of policies that focus on energy development rather than the environment.
Americans Get Motivated About Voting
Turning to something a little different. Someone has hit the motivation button for the American public when it comes to voting. Across two separate measures, Gallup has recorded a decided uptick in self-reported enthusiasm about voting this fall.
This is significant. In our weekly tracking average, the percent of registered voters who are very enthusiastic about voting has gone 32%, 30%, 32%, and then 40% in the week of March 22-28 (just after the Sunday House healthcare vote). More dramatically, perhaps, the percent who say they are “more enthusiastic” about voting jumped from 47% in February in our USA Today/Gallup poll to 62% over the weekend of March 26-28.
Why the jump?
The logical explanation, of course, has to do with the healthcare reform bill. The passage of this landmark legislation may well have sparked an increased determination among the American populace to express their views at the voting place next November 2.
Did enthusiasm jump just among Republicans, who have been most obviously “angry” over the bill’s passage? No. It moved up among Democrats as well. Republicans still have just about as much of an enthusiasm edge as they have enjoyed in the past. A rising tide has lifted all ships.
Concomitantly, we find that healthcare is second only to "the economy" as an issue Americans say will be important to their midterm election vote. Healthcare actually beats out unemployment in the list (March 26-28 USA Today/Gallup poll) by two points.
Germane to my first point above, the environment scored at the bottom of the list of priorities for voters in the fall’s election. Twenty-two percent say it will be extremely important to their vote. Fifty-seven percent say that the economy will be extremely important to their vote, 48% healthcare, and 46% unemployment.
A reader writes:
I would be interested in a poll that somehow measures how secure those already insured feel about the future of their plans. To say that most people view this as only beneficial to those without insurance is to tell only half the story. No one, save members of Congress, before this reform bill, was guaranteed health insurance.
We have certainly touched on that. In our March 26-28 poll we asked Americans if they thought the healthcare bill would make "the healthcare coverage you and your family receive 'better,' 'worse,' or 'no change'." The results show that 40% say no change, 34% worse. That adds up to 74% who do not see a benefit to their “coverage.” Twenty-four percent say their coverage will get better.
Healthcare coverage is not the exact same as insurance, but I think it’s close. And the results, yes, do suggest that three-quarters of Americans do not expect a net benefit to their current healthcare insurance coverage as a result of the bill.