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Behind the Numbers
Posted at 11:09 AM ET, 07/15/2010

Ban or no ban; two polls, two answers

On Wednesday, one headline screamed "Americans in 73% Majority Oppose Deepwater Drilling Ban." Another poll showed 56 percent support for the moratorium.

What gives?

The answer is pretty straightforward: the two national polls asked about completely separate things. You decide.

In the new Washington Post-ABC News poll, respondents were asked this: "Do you support or oppose the current six-month ban on new offshore oil drilling while authorities investigate the cause of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico?" Some 56 percent of those polled said they're in favor of the temporary suspension. (In the most affected Gulf counties, the results were flipped, with 60 percent opposition.)

The Bloomberg questionnaire phrases it thusly: "Do you think the spill proves off-shore drilling is just too dangerous and should be banned in U.S. waters, or was just a freak accident and offshore drilling can be made safer and should not be banned?" This is the one showing 73 percent on the negative side.

Obviously, I see the first question as a clear read on a current policy choice, and the second as about something else entirely. The latter question is useful to understanding public attitudes, but it's not necessarily focused on the ban that's in place. That question potentially confounds views on the short-term ban, drilling more broadly and the cause of the spill.

This conflation matters. In the Post-ABC poll, while most back the temporary ban, three-quarters said that after the review, the level of drilling in U.S. coastal waters should be increased or kept at about the same level. And in our June poll, Americans were about evenly split on whether the spill was more accurately seen as an isolated incident or a evidence of a broader problem with offshore drilling.

CBS-NYT June 2010

As you may know, after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the federal government temporarily shut down offshore drilling until new safety regulations could be put in place. Some people said that was a good idea because the oil spill demonstrated that new safety regulations were needed. Other people said it was a bad idea due to the loss of jobs and income to people in the area. What do you think? Was the temporary shut down of offshore drilling a good idea or a bad idea?

65% Good idea; 30% Bad idea; 5% Don't know/No answer

CNN-ORC June 2010

Please tell me whether you approve or disapprove of each of the following actions by the federal government....Suspending all new drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico and other offshore sites for six months CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll

58% Approve; 41% Disapprove; * No opinion

Marist, June 2010

Do you support or oppose a moratorium on drilling for new oil supplies in currently protected areas off shore, that is, do you support or oppose temporarily suspending new offshore drilling?

46% Support; 45% Oppose; 9% Unsure

By  |  11:09 AM ET, 07/15/2010

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