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Ahead of November, 77 percent of voters want more oil and gas

Zachary Toliver | Shale Plays Media

A new poll released by the American Petroleum Institute (API) claims that 77 percent of American voters want more oil and gas development. The questionnaire funded by the API is a part of their ongoing series titled, “What America is thinking on energy issues.” The public opinion series provided by API, publishes data to “inform policy discussions and ensure policymakers and others know Americans’ perspectives on key energy issues.” Straight from the press release, here are some of the studies key findings

  • 77 percent support increased production of America’s oil and natural gas resources, including 92 percent of Republicans, 80 percent of Independents and 66 percent of Democrats.
  • 68 percent support offshore drilling for domestic oil and natural gas resources, including 80 percent of Republicans, 72 percent of Independents and 61 percent of Democrats.
  • 68 percent would also be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports offshore drilling and producing more oil and natural gas from here in the U.S., including 80 percent of Republicans, 71 percent of Independents and 59 percent of Democrats.
  • Only 28 percent think the federal government does enough to encourage the development of oil and natural gas resources in the U.S., including just 12 percent of Republicans, 31 percent of Independents and 40 percent of Democrats.
  • 80 percent agree that producing more domestic oil and natural gas could help strengthen America’s national security by lessening the negative impacts of political instability occurring in other parts of the world.

The findings are exciting, especially when most battles around energy seem spilt down the middle such as the recent New York fight over hydraulic fracturing or the town of Denton Texas’ decision to push a similar city-wide ban onto the ballot in November.  Conversely, the timing this survey, right around the call to expand offshore drilling on the Eastern Seaboard, seems like an unlikely coincidence.

The questionnaire does have limitations. This is not really the fault of the poll conductor or the funder behind the survey, but rather the methodology itself. In Sociological study, limits of questionnaires are apparent and do not hold up well as a sole method of observation to portray the opinions of a population at large. They are usually just one piece to an array of different methodologies to explain a phenomenon.

Related: Industry poll: 70 percent Americans support Keystone XL

Take, for instance, the options of response to the first question, “Do you support or oppose [ROTATE] increased production of domestic oil and natural gas resources located here in the U.S.? And is that strongly or somewhat [SUPPORT/OPPOSE]?”

56 percent of people answered “strongly support” which is expected from anyone following the heated battles of the industry. But with 21 percent answering “somewhat support,” the idea becomes more subjective. Somewhat support implies circumstantial support, something that could go either way, depending on the context. The same voters who would be less likely to support oil and gas production near a playground could also easily find themselves frustrated by overarching government barriers blocking new well development. Most questionnaires fall victim to interpretation in the pursuit of quantifying large numbers of responses.

In addition, the sample size and weighted obligations to represent the target population are vital to a good survey. This poll in particular came from 1012 respondents, a very good base. Yet again, when looking at the particulars of who was sampled, there are aspects of the survey to question. Eighty four percent of respondents were 35 or older, a demographic most likely to promote oil and gas production.  Sixty five percent claimed they lived in a suburban or urban environment, which is usually completely separated from the reality of the major oil and gas development of rural regions. Lastly, the sampling error claims +/- 3 percent at 95 percent confidence. Depending on the study, 95 percent is the lowest number a quantitative method could receive. In Sociological methodology, 97-99 are the holy grails of statistical significance with an error margin of +/- 2.

This is not to say the API isn’t doing groundbreaking and vital work on what the American people think about energy production in the country. This questionnaire is still of great importance in helping further our understanding of the macro perception. However, as with any behavioral science, research should be examined thoroughly, and special interest should find themselves under consideration by those who are tracing the “truth” of social science. Oil and gas related politics are verbal explosions going off on both sides of the aisle, both of which, are filled with quality science and extremist fundamentalism. With the election season ahead and America on track to become number one in oil production, everyone must take their science with a grain of salt, no matter whose name is checked on the ballot.

Find a recap of the American petroleum institute’s latest survey on America’s perception here and reach your own educated conclusion on its significance.