Special Reports

Ipsos-McClatchy poll Despite spill, plurality of us back drilling

WASHINGTON — A plurality of Americans still support expanding offshore oil drilling, but that support has dropped since the spill in the Gulf of Mexico, according to a new Ipsos-McClatchy poll.

The survey found 49 percent of Americans supported expanded offshore drilling and 38 percent opposed it, with 12 percent unsure.

While Americans still leaned more toward expanded drilling than against it, their support has decreased since earlier polls by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center using somewhat different methodology. Those surveys before the spill found 63 percent supporting expanded drilling in February and 68 percent supporting it in April 2009.

At the same time, a new Pew poll released Tuesday found Americans critical of the response to the Gulf spill by both the government and BP, with views of the government rivaling immediate reactions to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

A majority of Americans, 54 percent, say that the federal government’s response so far has been fair or poor, comparable to the 58 percent who gave similar marks to the government in September 2005, immediately after Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast.

Just 38 percent approve of the way President Barack Obama has handled the oil leak, while 36 percent disapproved. The numbers were worse for former President George W. Bush in Katrina’s aftermath, when 52 percent disapproved.

Obama has put on hold his proposal to allow more offshore drilling until the government completes a review of the spill.

Despite the drop in support for new offshore drilling, the Ipsos-McClatchy poll suggested that the politics of energy remain complicated. For one thing, there’s a wide partisan divide on expanded offshore drilling, with support from 32 percent of Democrats, 49 percent of independents and 72 percent of Republicans.

For another, a solid 60 percent majority of Americans still think offshore drilling is necessary so the country can produce more of its own oil and depend less on foreign suppliers. Just 35 percent said that offshore drilling overall is a bad idea because of the risk to the environment. The rest were unsure.

Republicans called offshore drilling necessary by a margin of 80-18; independents called it necessary by a margin of 54-38; and Democrats split evenly, 48-48.

Given several choices to address growing energy needs, Americans ranked alternative energy first, followed by mass transit, expanded offshore drilling and greater use of nuclear power.

The poll found 73 percent of Americans support increasing federally financed research on alternative forms of energy such as wind, solar and hydrogen technology, and 17 percent oppose it, with the remainder having no opinion. Support cut across political lines, coming from 78 percent of Democrats, 71 percent of independents and 68 percent of Republicans.

Also, 63 percent support more spending on mass transit such as buses, subways and trains, while 24 percent oppose it. That support came from 74 percent of Democrats, 66 percent of independents and 47 percent of Republicans.