June 24, 2010

Obama’s Ratings Little Affected by Recent Turmoil

Section 2: Environment and Energy

Opposition to allowing more offshore oil and gas drilling in U.S. waters has grown dramatically in recent months as oil continues to flow into the Gulf of Mexico. For the first time since the question was first asked nearly two years ago, a majority (52%) opposes the government allowing more offshore oil and gas drilling in U.S. waters. That is up from 31% in February and 38% in May, shortly after the April 20 rig explosion that triggered the leak. In April 2009, 68% favored allowing more drilling in U.S. waters; 27% were opposed.

Support for offshore drilling has dropped across party lines, most sharply among Democrats and independents. Despite the declines, a majority
of Republicans (63%) still favor expanded offshore drilling, which is down from 74% in February.

By contrast, a substantial majority of Democrats (69%) now oppose increased offshore oil and gas drilling; in February, 54% supported more offshore drilling. Currently, about half of independents (51%) oppose increased oil and gas drilling in U.S. waters. In February, a clear majority of independents (66%) favored more offshore drilling.

Obama and the Oil Leak

A majority of the public (52%) now disapproves of Barack Obama’s handling of the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico while 39% approve. In early May, opinion was more divided – 38% approved, 36% disapproved and 26% offered no opinion.

Republicans and independents rate Obama’s performance far more negatively than they did in May. Only 19% of Republicans approve of the president’s handling of the oil leak while 75% disapprove. Disapproval is up 21 points since May. Similarly, close to six-in-ten (58%) independents now disapprove of Obama’s performance, up from 38% in May. By comparison, 61% of Democrats approve of Obama’s handling of the crisis while 29% disapprove. That is little changed since May.

People in the states directly affected by the oil leak give somewhat more positive ratings to Obama’s performance than the rest of the country; 47% of those living in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida approve of the president’s handling of the leak while 48% disapprove. By comparison, 38% of those living in other states approve of Obama’s performance while 52% disapprove.

Most Favor Stricter Environmental Laws

In the midst of the nation’s largest environmental disaster, the public continues to express broad support for increased environmental protection. There is no increase, however, in the proportion who think people should be willing to pay higher prices to protect the environment.

About eight-in-ten (81%) agree that there need to be stricter laws and regulations to protect the environment. For nearly two decades, large majorities of the public have supported stronger environmental protection. Nearly half (46%) now say they completely agree that stricter environmental laws and regulations are needed, up from 41% in April 2009, but lower than the 55% who said this in 1992.

Environmental Protection vs. Higher Prices

The public remains divided about whether people should be willing to pay higher prices in order to protect the environment (49% agree, 47% disagree). This is little changed from April 2009 – but that was the first time since 1992 when a majority did not agree that people should be willing to pay higher prices for environmental protection. The proportion who completely disagrees with this statement has increased since 2009; 21% now completely disagree, up from 15% last year.

Democrats continue to express far more support than Republicans for environmental protection. Nearly all Democrats (95%) agree that stricter laws and regulations are needed to protect the environment, compared with 69% of Republicans. These views are little changed from April 2009. But the partisan gap has widened considerably since the early 1990s. In 1992, 93% of Democrats and 86% of Republicans supported stronger environmental protection. Eight-in-ten independents agree that stronger environmental protection is needed. A large majority of independents have expressed support for tougher environmental laws and regulations since the early 1990s.

About six-in-ten Democrats (61%) agree that people should be willing to pay higher prices in order to protect the environment while 36% disagree. By comparison, only 35% of Republicans agree with this idea and 63% disagree. The partisan gap has widened considerably since earlier this decade. In 2003, 69% of Democrats and 60% of Republicans agreed that people should be willing to pay higher prices to protect the environment. For much of the 1990s, there were only modest differences between Republicans and Democrats. Independents are divided – 49% agree and 48% disagree that people should be willing to pay higher prices to protect the environment. That is the same as a year ago, though majorities of independents agreed with this statement from 1992 to 2007.

Views about Energy Policy

The public gives broad support to a variety of proposals to address the nation’s energy situation. More than three-fourths (78%) favor requiring that new homes and buildings meet higher efficiency standards. Similarly, 75% support increasing federal funding for research on wind, solar and hydrogen technology, and 64% favor spending more on subway, rail and bus systems. Support for alternative energy and mass transit have remained relatively stable in recent years.

But the public remains divided when it comes to nuclear energy; 47% favor promoting the increased use of nuclear power and the same number are opposed. And there is far less support for offshore drilling than there was in early May – 44% favor allowing more offshore oil and gas drilling in U.S. waters while 52% are opposed.

Many of these energy policies garner broad support across party lines – a majority of Republicans, Democrats and independents favor higher efficiency standards for new homes and buildings, more funding for alternative energy and increased spending on mass transit. Republicans, though, are less likely to support these policies than Democrats.

There are much more substantial partisan differences on offshore drilling and nuclear power. While a majority of Republicans favor promoting the increased use of nuclear power (61%), close to six-in-ten Democrats (59%) oppose this. Among independents, opinion is divided about nuclear power (50% favor, 46% oppose).

When it comes to the public’s views about what should be included in new energy legislation, a recent Pew Research/National Journal Poll found that there is broad support for more renewable energy and limits on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, though the public also supports increased exploration for coal, gas and oil (see “Public Remains of Two Minds on Energy Policy,” June 14, 2010).