Alaska editorial: ANWR-drilling hopes stay alive in latest poll results

Posted: Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Supporters of drilling for oil in a sliver of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge have known all along this day would come. They've kept the faith that some day, a majority of Americans would come around to the idea of getting oil out of an area that Congress had already set aside for that purpose.

That day may be here at last, which means a Democratically controlled Congress reluctant to drill could find itself under some pressure to change course.

The latest poll numbers came out last week from the reputable Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. The numbers are encouraging in that more people see the merit of energy exploration, including drilling in ANWR.

Amazing what a sharp increase in the price of oil, and the trickle down to the price of gasoline, diesel and heating fuels, can do to people's views. Those who monitor the relationship between pocketbook and positions know how it works.

The Pew poll found the following:

• "Support for energy exploration at highest point this decade." The poll found that 47 percent believe it is more important for U.S. energy policy to expand exploration and build new power plants. That level of support slightly exceeds the percentage who believe U.S. policy should have energy conservation as a priority.

• With regard to ANWR, 50 percent of those surveyed support drilling in ANWR, up from 42 percent in February of this year.

• Support is even up among Democrats, who generally have opposed efforts to obtain ANWR's storehouse of oil. The Pew poll found that 36 percent of Democrats now favor drilling in ANWR, up sharply from 31 percent in February.

• Those who classify themselves as "independent" accounted for one of the larger shifts toward ANWR drilling, up 7 percentage points to 48 percent.

• Big shifts toward opening ANWR for oil production came in multiple age brackets regardless of political identity. People age 18 to 29 favor ANWR drilling 37 percent, up from 27 percent in February. Fifty percent of those age 30 to 49 support refuge drilling, up from 40 percent, and 62 percent of people over age 65 back opening the refuge, up from 52 percent.

This isn't a poll conducted on a whim by a fly-by-night outfit. The Pew Center has a long history of polling and is regularly cited by media outlets of all sorts. It is open about how it conducts its polls; you can find out about the energy poll and other Pew polls at people-press.org.

The Pew energy poll is based on contacts with 2,004 adults, age 18 and older, and was conducted June 18-29. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points, a particularly low number - meaning it's a good, reliable poll. Take that into account when looking at polls by others in the coming days. Groups that have long opposed opening the arctic refuge to drilling will trot out their own polls with results more suitable to their beliefs, but the Pew Center's poll comes with high credentials.

The numbers are good news. Now, if Congress will just listen to the public ...



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