Poll: Spill not Obama’s Katrina, drilling still OK

Published 5:31 pm Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill hasn’t stained President Barack Obama nor dimmed the public’s desire for offshore energy drilling, according to a new Associated Press-GfK Poll.

While some conservative pundits, such as Rush Limbaugh, have called this “Obama’s Katrina,” that’s not how the public feels, the poll found. BP PLC, which owned the well that has gushed more than 4 million gallons since an Apr. 20 oil rig explosion, is getting more of the public’s ire.

More people surveyed said they approved of Obama’s handling of the ongoing oil spill than disapproved, but not by large margins or with unusually strong feelings. It contrasts with the public’s reaction to President George W. Bush’s response to another Gulf disaster, 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.

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The poll found that 42 percent approve of Obama’s actions, 33 percent disapprove and 21 percent say they have neutral feelings about his response.

The reaction is strongly along partisan lines. Democrats lean toward favoring Obama’s actions, 58 percent to 19 percent, with 17 percent expressing neither approval nor disapproval. By 47 percent to 27 percent, Republicans disapprove of Obama’s reaction, with 23 percent saying neither. Independents are about evenly split between approval and disapproval.

Democrat Eduardo Martinez, 38, of West Chester, Pa., said, “I’ve actually been impressed; they’ve put pressure on the private sector.”

Republican Jeff Gerow, 52, of Boca Raton, Fla., said, “Just as I thought Bush was too slow to do anything with Katrina, even though I’m a Republican, I think he (Obama) could have done more with those folks.”

For Bush after Katrina, the public was harsher in its assessment. An AP-Ipsos poll in mid-September 2005 showed Bush’s approval rating somewhat lower in the weeks following the Katrina disaster than Obama’s rating for handling the current crisis. Back then, 35 percent approved of Bush’s handling of the disaster and 42 percent disapproved, with 25 percent expressing neither approval nor disapproval.

The telephone poll of 1,002 adults for the latest survey was conducted for The Associated Press by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Media between May 7-11. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

Even though BP got lower ratings than the president, it wasn’t too bad for the company formerly known as British Petroleum. Of those polled, 49 percent disapprove of BP’s actions, 32 percent approve and 15 percent express neither approval nor disapproval. But the feelings about BP were much more strong on the negative end, with 32 percent strongly disapproving of its actions compared with 6 percent who strongly approve.

The poll also found that the public still supports the idea of drilling offshore for oil and gas. By 50 percent to 38 percent, more people favor increased coastal drilling for oil and gas than oppose it.

While Republicans favor it by a 3-to-1 margin, Democrats lean toward opposing it, 52 percent to 36 percent. Independents are about evenly split. Groups giving drilling the strongest support include men, middle-aged and older people, whites and residents of rural and suburban areas.

The country is split about evenly over which priority is more important in considering drilling, with 49 percent choosing the need for the U.S. to provide its own energy and 47 percent picking protection of the environment.

Democrats prefer environmental protection by 62 percent to 35 percent. Republicans lean the other way, favoring the need for U.S. energy independence by 68 percent to 28 percent. Independents are about evenly split.

“We need to drill here, our economy needs it, but we also need to save the environment,” said Ryan Hart, 42, of Auburn, Maine, who considers himself politically independent.

Before the April 20 rig accident that triggered the spill, efforts to increase drilling offshore — which had used the slogan “drill, baby, drill” — had a major victory when the Democratic president partly lifted bans on drilling off many coastal areas. A Pew Research Center poll in April 2009 found that by 68 percent to 27 percent, people favored “more offshore oil and gas drilling in U.S. waters.” That polling did not have the same questions as this one.