Polls Show Americans are Worried, Angry and Blame Everyone for Oil Spill

Public awareness and opinion about the BP oil spill is an important topic for shaping public policies and programs.  Since the disaster started, a number of national polls have been conducted to measure the reaction of Americans to the spill, as well as the capability and credibility of the main actors involved.  All these surveys have been done by well-known, professional firms and include just over 1000 adult respondents.  These surveys have a margin of error of just over four percent.  Over the past three decades I designed dozens of surveys like the ones reported here.

Click below to learn what American people think:

Poll: Spill drags Obama’s rating down
Mark Murray – June 23, 2010 – MSNBC

Two months of oil continuing to gush from a well off the Gulf Coast, as well as an unemployment rate still near 10 percent, have taken a toll on President Barack Obama and his standing with the American public, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. …

There is no doubt that the two-month Gulf spill has played a significant role in the president’s declining poll numbers.  In the survey — which was conducted after Obama’s fourth visit to the Gulf last week, after his Oval Office address on the spill, and after getting BP to agree to a $20 billion escrow account to help pay for relief — 50 percent say they disapprove of Obama’s handling of the spill, while 42 percent approve.

But the public gives him better ratings than it does Congress, the federal government, and BP.  A combined 48 percent believe that Obama has done more or as much as expected in dealing with spill. By comparison, 39 percent say the same of Congress, 36 percent say that of the federal government (including the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency), and just 27 percent say that of BP.

Indeed, the poll shows that only 6 percent have a favorable rating of BP. In the history of the NBC News/Journal poll, Saddam Hussein (3 percent), Fidel Castro (3 percent) and Yasser Arafat (4 percent) have had lower favorable scores, and O.J. Simpson (11 percent) and tobacco-maker Philip Morris (15 percent) have had higher ratings.

The spill also has slightly changed attitudes about offshore drilling. In May, 60 percent said they supported the proposal allowing for more offshore drilling off the U.S. coast.  That percentage now has dropped to 53 percent, although it’s still a majority.

Confidence Waning in Obama, U.S. Outlook

The survey shows grave and growing concerns about the Gulf oil spill, with overwhelming majorities of adults favoring stronger regulation of the oil industry and believing that the spill will affect the nation’s economy and environment. …

Nearly two-thirds in the survey said they wanted more regulation of oil companies. Majorities also favor more regulation of Wall Street firms, health insurers and “big corporations.”  While a majority still favors greater offshore drilling, support has slipped considerably over the past month as the Gulf oil spill has grown worse—from 60% in May to 53% now.  Sixty-three percent support legislation to reduce carbon emissions and increase the use of alternative and renewable energy sources, even if it means an increase in energy costs.

Americans: Need change, won’t pay
Joel Connelly – Seattle PI –  June 22, 2010

Americans overwhelmingly feel their country depends too much on foreign oil, and agree it will develop a viable alternative to oil, but a majority aren’t willing to pay a higher gas tax to transform their nation’s energy policy, according to a new New York Times/CBS News poll.

The survey, which included national results and opinion along the Gulf of Mexico, revealed a sharp drop in support for offshore drilling from days of “Drill Baby Drill” just before the April 20 Gulf of Mexico disaster.  By a 49 percent to 42 percent margin, the country as a whole opposes such drilling: In the Gulf region, where thousands of jobs depend on drilling, 54 percent of those surveyed still support it.   …

The poll asked whether there should be more and tighter regulation of offshore drilling: By a 76 percent to 18 percent margin, Americans said yes. Just 13 percent of those surveyed approved BP’s handling of the massive oil spill with 79 percent voicing their disapproval.  Fifty-one percent of those polled said they are not willing to pay a higher gas tax, with 45 percent saying they would. Asked about a dollar per gallon gas tax hike, support fell to 32 percent. …

One in two Americans say they are not very or not at all confident that BP will compensate people affected by the spill. Just ten percent are very confident that the company will do so. Most Americans believe Obama has at least some control over BP making payments.  Gulf coast residents are slightly more optimistic than Americans overall: 60 percent are at least somewhat confident that the oil giant will compensate those affected by the spill.

While Americans are far more likely to trust the federal government than BP when it comes to cleaning up the spill, two in three believe the Obama administration could be doing more than it is now.  Just thirty percent say the company’s efforts to clean up the spill are making things better. Forty-three percent say they have had no impact, and 17 percent say they have made things worse.

A mere 13 percent of Americans (including 21 percent of Gulf coast residents) approve of BP’s handling of the spill. Seventy-nine percent disapprove, and 81 percent believe the company could be doing more to clean up the spill.

Two in three Americans say the federal government’s moratorium on offshore drilling is a good idea, while 30 percent say the moratorium should be lifted because of its impact on the Gulf coast economy. And while 42 percent favor increased offshore drilling, 49 percent oppose it.

More Give Administration Poor Ratings for Oil Leak Response
June 21, 2010 – Pew Research Center

Over the past month, the public’s views of how both the Obama administration and BP have handled the Gulf oil leak have changed only modestly. Still, a significantly higher percentage gives the administration a poor rating now (35%) than did so last month (26%), largely because Republicans have grown much more critical of its handling of the oil leak.

The administration continues to get much higher marks for its response to the oil leak than does BP. Currently, 33% rate the administration’s response to the leak as excellent or good; another 29% say the administration has done only fair. Both measures are little changed from May. By contrast, just 18% give positive ratings to BP’s response, while 28% say it has been only fair. And even with the rise in poor ratings for the Obama administration, many more rate BP’s response to the oil leak as poor (49%) than say that about the administration’s response (35%).

The latest Pew Research/National Journal Poll, which was conducted June 17-20 among 1,009 adults, finds that opinions about the administration’s response to the oil leak have become more partisan since May. Currently, 64% of Republicans rate the administration’s response as poor, up from 44% last month. Republicans now are less critical of BP than of the administration; fewer than half (47%) of Republicans say BP has done a poor job in responding to the leak.

By contrast, Democratic evaluations of the administration’s response to the leak have become somewhat more positive (48% excellent/good in May, 59% excellent/good today). As was the case in May, independents are divided: 30% say the administration has done an excellent or good job, 31% only fair, while 35% say the administration has done a poor job in responding to the leak.

Public Reacts Positively To Extensive Gulf Coverage
Pew People and the Press – June 22, 2010

While the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico has accounted for an overwhelming proportion of recent news coverage, most Americans say the press is giving the right amount of attention to the still-unfolding disaster.  The News Interest Index survey conducted June 17-20 among 1,009 adults by the Pew Research Center finds that 53% say the press has devoted the right amount of coverage to the disaster. Among the remainder, as many say news organizations are giving too little coverage to the leak (21%) as say too much coverage (19%).

Last week, news about the leak, which included a presidential address about the crisis, accounted for 44% of the newshole, the highest percentage since the story broke on April 20 with a deadly explosion on an offshore oil rig. That represents the highest amount of coverage for any news story since health care legislation was approved by Congress in March.

Public interest in the disaster remains strong. More than six-in-ten (63%) say they followed news about the oil leak more closely than any other story last week. A majority (56%) says the press has done an excellent or good job in covering the leak, though that is down from 66% in early May.

Public Remains of Two Minds on Energy Policy

Pew Research Center – June 14, 2010

As in previous Pew Research Center surveys, Americans do not view energy policy as a choice between expanded production and conservation, or between traditional and alternative energy sources.

Fully 87% favor including a provision in comprehensive energy legislation to require utilities to produce more energy from wind, solar or other renewable sources. More than three-quarters (78%) favor tougher efficiency standards for building and major appliances.

By greater than two-to-one (66% to 29%), the public supports including limits on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions in comprehensive energy legislation. Yet about as many (68%) favor expanded exploration and development of coal, oil and gas in the United States.

In general, the public thinks that protecting the environment should be a more important priority than keeping energy prices low (by 56% to 37%). As might be expected, there are substantial partisan differences over the goal for energy policy.  Large majorities of Democrats (68%) and independents (59%) say the more important priority should be to protect the environment. Only about four-in-ten (41%) Republicans agree, while about half (52%) see keeping energy prices low as a bigger priority.

Among Republicans, 31% favor keeping existing drilling but banning new offshore drilling.  By contrast, pluralities of Democrats (41%) and independents (36%) support continuing existing drilling but banning new projects. Democrats (33%) are more likely than independents (19%) or Republicans (11%) to favor a total ban on new offshore oil and gas drilling.

There also is a gender gap in views of offshore oil and gas drilling. While 28% of women favor a total ban on drilling, just 16% of men agree. Those who follow news about the oil leak very closely also are more likely than those who follow this news less closely to favor a total ban on offshore drilling (27% vs. 16%).

AP Poll: Most Unhappy With Obama On Oil Spill
LIZ SIDOTI, Associated Press – June 15, 2010

Most Americans are angry about the government’s slow response, the poll finds, with 54 percent saying they had strong feelings about the bureaucracy’s reaction. Many doubt that Washington could really help them if they were a disaster victim.

The survey found that 52 percent don’t approve of Obama’s handling of the spill, a significant increase from last month when a big chunk of Americans withheld judgment. A stunning 83 percent disapprove of BP’s performance in the aftermath of the explosion that set off the spill. That percentage of Americans disapproving also was a huge jump from May. …

Obama’s overall job performance rating didn’t take a hit even though he got troubling marks on the spill; it stayed almost the same at 50 percent. That’s consistent with the public’s attitudes throughout his young presidency; people generally like him but don’t necessarily agree with his policies.

Disapproval of Obama’s handling of the environmental crisis is similar to the percentage of Americans frustrated with Bush’s handling of Katrina — even though in this case, people have an entity other than the White House to blame. In November 2005, two months after the hurricane hit, an AP-Ipsos poll found 53 percent disapproved of the job Bush was doing on hurricane recovery. And his overall approval rating suffered some, sliding to 37 percent.

Initially, the public didn’t seem willing to cast judgment on Obama or BP for the spill. But public attitudes have shifted dramatically as Americans already reeling over a recession and angry at institutions of all types — from corporations to Congress — watch crude continue to gush while both BP and the government struggled to find a solution and clean up the mess.

Far more people are focused on the spill now as oil coats beaches, kills wildlife and cripples the Gulf economy; 87 percent now say the issue is very important to them personally, second only to the economy. And far more rate the environment — 72 percent — as very important than did last month. …

Nearly three quarters in the poll said they thought the spill will have some impact on their own families in the next year; 63 percent said the country would still be feeling the impact in five years while 40 percent said it would be more like a decade.

Trouble for Obama stretches across party lines, and it’s clear he has problems with his own base with this issue.  About three-quarters of Republicans, just over half of independents and nearly a third of Democrats said they disapprove of how Obama is handling the spill.

But Democrats and those giving Obama overall high marks were angrier about the spill than Republicans and those who give Obama low marks. Also, Democrats were likelier than Republicans to say they feel deep shame and to say that the spill made them feel less confident that the government can protect the environment from companies’ actions.

Poll: Americans want Obama to get tougher on BP and oil spill
USA Today – Jun 14, 2010

Americans have a message for President Obama on handling the oil spill: Get tougher.  In a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll, 71% of those surveyed say that Obama hasn’t been tough enough in dealing with BP on the oil spill. Just one in five say his actions have been “about right,” and a negligible 3% say he’s been too tough.

His ratings on handling the spill have gotten a bit worse, compared with a USA TODAY poll in late May. Now 24% of Americans rate the job the president is doing on the spill as “very poor” — that’s a 5 percentage-point jump from three weeks ago — and another 29% rate it as “poor.”  Nearly half of those surveyed say BP is doing a “very poor” job, a jump of 10 percentage points since May. …

Three of four say BP deserves “great deal” of blame for the spill, but 44% also say that the federal agencies that regulate oil should shoulder a lot of the responsibility.  Americans see the spill as an environmental and economic catastrophe. Half predict that some beaches will never recover from the oil spill. Six in 10 say some species of wildlife, including fish and birds, will never return to normal levels even after the clean-up is completed.

Americans Want BP to Pay All Losses, No Matter the Cost
by Frank Newport June 15, 2010

PRINCETON, NJ — The majority of Americans (59%) say British Petroleum should pay for all financial losses resulting from the Gulf Coast oil spill, including wages of workers put out of work, even if those payments ultimately drive the company out of business. Seven out of 10 Americans (71%) say Obama has not been tough enough in his dealings with BP. …

The results are from a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted June 11-13 as President Obama made a two-day trip to the Gulf area and prepared to speak to the nation on the oil spill situation Tuesday.  These efforts come at a time when neither Obama nor BP gets stellar ratings for their handling of the oil spill, although Obama’s ratings are clearly less negative than BP’s. …

Partisanship is very much evident in Americans’ views about Obama’s response to the oil spill, with 79% of Republicans, compared to 59% of independents and 27% of Democrats, rating his efforts as poor or very poor.  Americans regardless of political identification for the most part agree that BP has done a poor job. Remarkably, there is little difference across Democrats, independents, and Republicans in their feelings about Obama’s “toughness” in his dealings with BP. In fact, an identical 73% of Democrats and Republicans say Obama is not being tough enough with BP (while 68% of independents agree).

Republicans are more lenient in their views on the liability BP should be expected to sustain as a result of the spill. Forty-nine percent say BP should pay for as much of the financial losses as it can afford while still remaining viable — compared to 32% of Democrats and 36% of independents. Democrats and independents are more likely to say BP should pay for damages even if it forces the company out of business.

President Obama’s very public efforts this week to show his concern about the oil spill and to be harsher with British Petroleum appear to be generally responsive to Americans’ concerns evident in recent polling on the issue. Most Americans say the president to date has not been tough enough with the oil company, and a majority say he has done a poor job of responding to the spill. A majority also want BP to pay for the damages and lost wages caused by the spill, even if the company is forced to go out of business.

White House Could Have Done More, Moved Faster On Spill
Fox News Poll: – June 10, 2010

Fifty-seven percent think the administration could have done more and reacted more quickly to the spill in the Gulf of Mexico. That’s 20 percentage points higher than the 37 percent who think the administration did as much as it could as fast as it could.

Not unexpectedly, most Republicans (72 percent) think the administration could have done more. A majority of independents (63 percent), as well as a substantial minority of Democrats (43 percent), agree.  And while many voters — 36 percent — think the Obama administration is “up to the job” of fixing the problem in the gulf, a 54 percent majority thinks the administration is “in over its head.”

BP garners even less confidence: 25 percent think it’s “up to the job” and 68 percent “in over its head.”  Just over half of voters (51 percent) now disapprove of the job the White House is doing on the spill. Some 38 percent approve, down from 44 percent approval in mid-May, and 50 percent approval the week after the rig explosion.  BP gets worse marks: 13 percent approve and 79 percent disapprove of how the company is handling the spill. …

While a majority of voters think the president has been “compassionate” in reacting to the spill (60 percent), far fewer describe his response as “strong leadership” (42 percent) or as “aggressive” (28 percent).In the six weeks since the rig disaster. …

Who’s responsible for the oil spill? More people (58 percent) point to BP for not being prepared than point to anyone else. Ten percent blame environmentalists for opposing drilling on land and in shallow water. Similar numbers put the blame on consumers for relying on large quantities of oil and gas (8 percent) and the federal government for allowing the drilling (7 percent).

In addition, more voters think the lesson learned from the BP disaster is that drilling should be done in shallow waters or on land so problems can be more easily addressed (40 percent) than think it’s that drilling should be seriously limited in the future (31 percent) or that it should be done in extremely remote areas (14 percent).

The number in favor of increasing offshore drilling has dropped below half for the first time and now stands at 44 percent. That’s down from 54 percent three weeks ago (18-19 May 2010). In early April, before the Deep Water Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20, fully 70 percent said they favored increasing offshore drilling in U.S. coastal waters.  Similarly, opposition has increased to 48 percent, up from 38 percent in mid-May and 22 percent in early April. …

When asked about their personal reactions to the spill, more voters expressed heartbreak than anger. A significant number also worry about the economic fallout.  Nearly 7 in 10 voters (69 percent) are “very” worried about the economic impact of the spill and another 23 percent are “somewhat” worried.

Most people — 95 percent — say they feel heartbroken about the people and wildlife affected by the spill (76 percent “very” and 19 percent “somewhat”). Fully 83 percent are angry at those responsible (52 percent “very” and 31 percent “somewhat”).  Women react more intensely than men on both measures: Women are more likely to be very angry (by 7 percentage points) as well as very heartbroken (by 8 points).

Polls about BP Oil Spill June 7, 2010
Analysis by GARY LANGER – ABC News

By more than a 2-to-1 margin, Americans support the pursuit of criminal charges in the nation’s worst oil spill, with increasing numbers calling it a major environmental disaster. Eight in 10 criticize the way BP’s handled it and more people give the federal government’s response a negative rating than did the response to Hurricane Katrina.

A month and a half after the spill began, 69 percent in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll rate the federal response negatively. That compares with a 62 negative rating for the response to Katrina two weeks after the August 2005 hurricane.

BP’s response to the spill draws even broader criticism – 81 percent rate it negatively. And 64 percent say the government should pursue criminal charges against BP and other companies involved in the spill, which has poured oil into the Gulf from a well 5,000 feet beneath the surface since an explosion and fire destroyed the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig April 20. …

Support for pursuit of criminal charges against BP and its partners rises to 71 percent among people who call the spill a major disaster. Similarly, 73 percent favor criminal charges among those who suspect that unnecessary risks were taken by BP and its partners.

There’s sharp negative intensity in views of BP. Fifty-four percent give its response the lowest rating, “poor,” and 51 percent “strongly” favor examination of criminal charges against the company and its partners both high levels of strong sentiment.  Substantially fewer, by contrast, rate the federal government’s response as “poor,” 32 percent.

Poll: Wide Majority See Spill as ‘Disaster’
By Dalia Sussman – NY Times –  May 27, 2010

A USA Today/Gallup poll finds most Americans rating the president’s response to the oil spill negatively. A broad majority believes the long-term impact of the oil spill will be a “disaster,” and the public is closely tuned into the situation. …

Most Americans envision deep, long-term consequences. More than 7 in 10 say the impact of the oil spill in the long run will be a disaster, including almost 4 in 10 who say it will be the worst environmental disaster in the United States in at least 100 years. Just 26 percent hold a more positive view, seeing the spill as a problem but not a disaster.

The spill has captured the public’s attention. Nearly 9 in 10 respondents, 87 percent, say they are following news about the conditions in the Gulf closely, including 47 percent who say they are following it “very closely.”

Americans Critical of Oil Spill Response; Keeping Close Tabs
Lymari Morales May 27, 2010 – Pew Report

Americans’ dissatisfaction with BP’s efforts is particularly strong. Looking at the extreme responses, 39% of Americans called BP’s response “very poor” compared to 21% for the federal government and 19% for Obama. “Very good” ratings were almost non-existent for all three players — with 11% saying so about Obama’s efforts, compared with 6% for BP and 5% for the federal government.

Evaluations of the initial government response are similar to public views of federal efforts immediately after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005. Currently, 54% say the response by the federal government has been only fair or poor, which is comparable to the government’s initial rating for handling Hurricane Katrina in September 2005 (58% only fair/poor). Nonetheless, British Petroleum gets even more negative ratings for its handling of the oil leak (63% only fair/poor).

The criticism extends to President Obama, with just 38% saying they approve of his handling of the oil leak and 36% saying they disapprove. About a quarter (26%) offer no opinion. Still, opinion about Obama’s performance is not as negative as opinion about former President George W. Bush’s response to the flooding caused by Katrina. That September, 52% disapproved of Bush’s response to Katrina and 67% said he could have done more. Today, 47% say Obama could have done more to get the government’s response to the oil leak going quickly.

The spill also appears to have taken a toll on support for offshore drilling near the United States. Currently, 54% say they favor allowing more offshore drilling for oil and gas in U.S. waters, which is down from 63% in early February and 68% in April 2009. Virtually all of the decline in support for offshore drilling has occurred among Democrats and independents as Republicans remain as  supportive as they were before the spill.

In general, the public is divided over whether oil spills like the one in the Gulf of Mexico are unavoidable if the United States is going to get an adequate supply of energy: 41% say such spills are unavoidable while 45% disagree.

The public had a much different reaction in April 1989, shortly after the huge oil spill caused by the crash of the Exxon Valdez tanker ship in Alaska. At that time, 74% said such spills were unavoidable while just 18% said they were not. The percentage saying such spills are unavoidable has declined substantially across partisan groups, education levels and regions.

More than half (55%) of the public say the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico is a major environmental disaster; another 37% see it as a serious problem – but not a disaster. Just 4% say it is not too serious.  At the same time, 51% say efforts to control the spill and keep it from spreading further will be successful. About three-in-ten (29%) say those efforts will not succeed.

Independents (60%) and Democrats (55%) are more likely to say they see the spill as a major disaster than Republicans (46%). Democrats also express less certainty that the efforts to control the spill will succeed: 57% of Republicans say they think these efforts will be successful, compared with 47% of Democrats. More than half of independents (52%) agree.

Those following news about the growing oil slick very closely also are more likely to see the oil leak in the gulf as a major disaster. Among those who say they are following this news very closely, 67% characterize it as a major environmental disaster. Among those following it less closely, just 47% say they see the spill that way. …

Americans are more critical of British Petroleum than the federal government when assessing the response of both to the crisis in the gulf. More than half of the public (54%) rate the response of the government as only fair or poor, while 33% rate it as good or excellent. Republicans are much more likely to be highly critical than Democrats or independents.

Public, Media Track Oil Spill, Diverge On Elections
Pew and Press Project – May 26, 2010

Americans stayed focused on the unfolding oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last week, while the effort to cap the underwater well and limit the damage was one of two stories that dominated media coverage.  The media devoted comparable levels of coverage  to the spill and news about last week’s primaries and the 2010 midterm elections (each accounted for 18% of the newshole), but the public showed much less interest in the political developments (5% followed this most closely) than the crisis in the gulf (46% most closely). …

Most Say Oil Leak Getting Right Amount of Media Coverage.  Almost six-in-ten Americans (59%) say the media is giving the right amount of coverage to the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.   Just 14% say this story has received too much coverage; about a quarter (24%) say it has gotten too little.

Almost half of the public (47%) says they followed news about the ongoing oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico very closely last week, while 46% say this was the story they followed most closely. The week after the story broke with the deadly April 20 explosion on an off-shore oil rig 21% said they were following very closely. That jumped to 44% the following week as oil rushed into the ocean. Two weeks ago, 58% said they were following this story very closely.

Poll: Support for More Offshore Oil Drilling Plummets
CBS News – May 11, 2010

Forty-six percent of Americans now say the support offshore drilling – a 16 point drop from the 64 percent who backed such drilling back in July of 2008, when “drill, baby, drill” was an oft-chanted Republican campaign slogan.  Forty-one percent, meanwhile, say the costs and risks of offshore drilling are too great – up from 28 percent in the summer of 2008. …

The survey suggests a correlation between opinions on increased offshore drilling and party identification. Sixty-three percent of Republicans still favor new drilling, while 29 percent say the costs and risks are too great.  By contrast, just 34 percent of Democrats back increased drilling, while 55 percent oppose it. (Independents are nearly split, with 45 percent in favor and 39 percent opposed.)


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