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Monday, June 7, 2010

What Do Americans Want to Be Done About the BP Oil Spill?

Looking hard for evidence of what Americans say should be done relating to the BP Gulf Coast oil spill/leak.

No question that this is a news event which people are following closely. Little question that, by this point, Americans consider it a bad thing. How bad depends on the question asked. In our USA Today/Gallup poll, given a range of four choices, a less-than-majority 37% said that the spill was “the worst disaster in the U.S. in at least 100 years." But another 35% choose the proffered alternative that the oil spill was a “disaster, but not the worst environmental disaster in the U.S. in the last 100 years.” That totals 72% (for readers mathematically inclined).

Meanwhile, a new ABC News/The Washington Post poll out on Monday finds that an almost identical 73% say that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a major environmental disaster (as opposed to the other two proffered alternatives: being a “serious environmental problem but not a disaster,” or “not too serious an environmental problem”).

(People have asked me if the oil spill is not the worst environmental disaster in 100 years, what is? Good question. We did not ask this of Americans. But other candidates could include the dropping of atom bombs on Japan in August 1945, perhaps the Chernobyl disaster, Love Canal, destruction of rain forests, etc.)

Americans are none too positive about the performance of all concerned in terms of dealing with the disaster up to this point. Until the oil spill is stopped and the oil cleaned up, I would think that this will continue to be the case.

At any rate, here at Gallup we found this weekend that 40% of Americans approve of the way President Obama is handling the oil spill. A CBS News poll found that 38% approve of the way the “Obama administration” is handling the spill. The new ABC news/The Washington Post poll finds 28% saying the federal government is doing an excellent or good job handing the spill. Twenty-one percent approved of the way BP is handling the spill in the CBS News poll. That’s pretty close to the 24% who gave BP an excellent or good rating in our USA Today/Gallup poll. The new ABC News/The Washington Post poll finds 16% approving of the performance of “the oil company BP” in handling the spill. All in all, no entity gets good marks for their handling of the oil spill. Which, as I say, is not surprising.

OK. Now, back to where I started. Just what is it that the American public says should be done about the oil spill?

The new polls shed a little light on the answer to this question.

1. Should there be increased efforts to clean up the oil spill?

Well, yes, 70% of Americans say that BP should be doing more -- according to the CBS News poll. The only surprise here is that this is not 100%. Sixty-three percent of Americans say the Obama administration should be doing more. These are not shocking results.

2. Should the U.S. file criminal charges against BP?

Yes. According to the ABC News/The Washington Post poll, 64% of Americans say “the federal government should pursue criminal charges against BP and other companies involved in the oil spill.”

I wonder about this. I am not a lawyer. Neither are most Americans. I don’t know how many of us non-lawyers can make the distinction between a criminal charge and a standard, run of the mill civil suit seeking damages. A reasonable hypothesis is that many Americans believe that BP should pay for a lot if not all of the clean up. These current data suggest that the average American wants more than just damages. Criminal charges, of course, can result in executive perp walks and time behind bars spent discussing high finance with the likes of Bernie Madoff.

3. Should BP be left in charge of the situation?

Yes, that’s what our poll in late May showed. I haven’t seen a lot of additional research asking Americans exactly what the federal government’s role should be. But at the time we asked the question, Americans, by well over a two-to-one margin, said that BP and not the federal government should “be in charge of efforts to contain the spill and to clean up the oil already spilled.”

4. Should retail BP gas stations be boycotted?

As of May 21-23, the answer was “no.” A CNN/Opinion Research poll found 70% of Americans said that that they were not less likely to buy gas at a BP station.

5. Should oil drilling in offshore areas be increased, despite the spill?

The CBS News poll question asks about increasing offshore drilling (as have other polls) but provides the respondent a pretty direct nudge to say no: "or do you think the costs or risks are too great." Not surprisingly given this question construction, it’s 40% yes, 51% costs/risks too great. There is a trend on this and the negative opinion has increased since early May or since August 2008.

Read here for my other observations on this last question.

If you, the reader, have any additional suggestions on what we should be asking the public about the BP oil spill, please let write in with a comment below.

4 comments:

Debbie Levitt said...
June 7, 2010 at 7:03 PM  

The Executive Branch is surrounded with suspicion or feeling of inadeqaucy. The Senate or House should demand that BBP be discharged with the responsibility of resolving problem and campaign for a brilliant corp of American engineers who are intrigued and concerned with the problem. The government has not killed the imagination and entrepaneuralistic spirit yet. No matter how they try Capitalism still has a few breaths left. During this treansition the US should still work with the liability issue with BBP. Of couse I do not know what negotiations transpired before this catastrophe.

Anonymous said...
June 10, 2010 at 2:47 PM  

I find it funny in the way the article is written. They say that 40% of Americans approve but doesn't say 60% do not approve. It is only the approvals that show and not the disapprovals in relation to the Obama Administration. The writer is biased and because of his bias he left out information showing the disapprovals of Obama.

Anonymous said...
June 23, 2010 at 2:52 PM  

“Regulate energy OUTPUT from private companies in an attempt to reduce global warming.” How many companies output energy except for oil/gas and electric utilities? Limit their output and who is going to get less than they want or need?

Anonymous said...
June 23, 2010 at 2:58 PM  

So why didn't the Obama administration convene a body of real experts (engineers and environmentalists) to assist BP in finding resolutions to the oil spill? Why didn't they invite in foreign ships that could help clean up. Why are BP still using dispersants which makes an emulsion so that it is harder to separate the oil and water and why was this done in the first place?

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