A majority of Californians now support more oil drilling off the state’s coast, according to a new independent poll of voters that seems likely to bolster the increasingly vocal political case being made for expanded offshore exploration and development.
The statewide survey, by the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California, shows a major shift in attitudes about offshore drilling across the state, led by Republicans, over the past year, a time when gas prices have soared and energy costs have become a top political issue. The margin between those supporting and opposing more drilling is relatively narrow: 51 percent in favor and 45 percent against. However, it is still remarkable, because Californians generally have favored environmental protection over expanded oil development since the Santa Barbara spill of 1969. The finding marks the first time since the PPIC began polling on the question in 2003 that more Californians favor than oppose offshore drilling.
As a political matter, the surprise finding comes at a time when President George W. Bush has been turning up the heat on congressional Democrats to join him in moving aggressively to increase drilling off all the nation’s coasts. It is likely to provide fodder for the presidential campaign of Republican John McCain, who has joined in the call for more drilling, while Democratic candidate Barack Obama has argued that such a policy is not a substantive, long-term solution to high gas and other energy prices.
“A record high number of people are worried about the economy,” said PPIC researcher Sonja Petek. “Given this general pessimism, higher prices for gas, and for a lot of things, residents are looking for some kind of solution.”
Over the past year, Californians of all political views have moved towards a more pro-drilling stance, with a dramatic 17-point swing in attitudes in one year among all residents. Last July, only 41 percent in the state wanted to drill for more oil off the coast, while 52 percent did not. Among other key findings:
• Republicans drove the reversal of the popular position on oil policy. More than three out of four GOP residents - 77 percent - now back more drilling, compared to 60 percent last year.
• Democrats still strongly oppose increased oil exploration and development. However, the number of supporters has increased significantly over the past year, from 29 percent to 35 percent. Sixty percent still oppose the policy.
• Independents as a group are still against expanding oil development, but by a much smaller margin than last July. Then, only 33 percent thought it was a good idea, compared to 44 percent today. Fifty percent of independents still oppose any such plan.
The findings are based upon a telephone survey of 2,504 California adult residents between July 8 and 22.The margin of error is plus or minus two percent.