Poll: Gulf Coast Residents Oppose Drilling Moratorium

Gulf Coast residents reported serious economic, environmental and emotional fallout from the BP oil spill, with vast majorities concerned about long-term negative effects on the area's tourism, seafood safety and more.

An ABC News-Washington Post poll found that three-quarters of residents in the most affected counties along the Gulf said the spill has hurt their area's economy, including 55 percent who said it has had a strongly negative impact. One in four reported personal financial damage.

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And there were other tolls: One in three personally has been depressed in the past few days because of the spill. Forty percent were angry about it; many others, upset if not angry.

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Nonetheless, given their region's reliance on the oil industry, most residents of the affected counties weren't turning their backs on offshore drilling. By 60-38 percent, they opposed the Obama administration's six-month moratorium on drilling (it got far more support nationally); and more, three-quarters, said drilling should resume at its existing level, or be expanded, in the future.

This poll was based on results among respondents nationally and from an extra sample of randomly selected residents of the 22 most affected counties along the Gulf, in an arc from Cameron Parish, La., east to Gulf County, Fla.

A Backlash Against Obama

There was broad criticism of the federal government's spill response in the affected counties (72 percent rated it negatively), and even steeper criticism of BP (82 percent said it has done a bad job; this poll was completed before the new cap was in place). In sharp contrast, more than six in 10 residents rated their local and state governments' responses positively.

Obama himself was unpopular in the area: 24 percent approved of his response to the spill (vs. 41 percent nationally) and 35 percent approved of his job performance overall, vs. 50 percent of all Americans. Some of that related to basic partisanship. Residents in the affected counties lean more toward the Republican Party than do all Americans. But even among those who lean toward the Democratic Party, Obama's spill response was seen more negatively in the affected counties than in the rest of the country overall.

Gulf Residents Angry

Seventy-nine percent in the Gulf counties called the spill a "major disaster," 11 points more than do so nationally. And 61 percent favored criminal charges against BP and other companies involved (about as many as say so nationally, 56 percent).

Anger wasn't limited to the affected counties; the number of Americans nationally who said they're angry or upset about the spill (35 and 29 percent, respectively) was much like the number who said so in the affected counties (40 percent and 27 percent).

That was even though locals were so much closer to it: Thirty percent said a "great deal" of oil has washed ashore in their own county or parish; an additional 25 percent said "a good amount" of oil has fouled their beaches or marshlands. Just 16 percent reported little or no oil ashore.

Most Residents Support Drilling

Still, as noted, however much oil has sullied the Gulf and its beaches, most residents continued to support offshore drilling. The six-month moratorium was particularly unpopular in Louisiana, where 72 percent opposed it. This declined to 51 percent in the rest of the affected counties and 39 percent in the country overall.

Whatever happens with the moratorium (revised by the administration this week, and still the focus of a court battle), residents in these Gulf counties were at least as likely as Americans overall to say the offshore drilling in U.S. coastal waters should be increased (23 percent Gulf Coast, 21 percent nationally) or kept the same (50 percent Gulf Coast, 44 percent nationally).

Concerns About Economy, Seafood Safety

Among other findings, while 70 percent of Gulf Coast residents said the spill has had no effect on their personal financial situation, 27 percent said it has hurt their own finances, including 14 percent who said it has hurt severely. Three percent said it has helped.

There was near unanimity in concern about long-term negative local effects on the economy (96 percent concerned), the environment (94 percent), seafood safety (91 percent) and tourism (88 percent). These included anywhere from 70 to 86 percent who were "very" concerned about these effects.

Government Response to BP Oil Spill

Economic concern showed up in another measure: Nationally, 32 percent of Americans said the economy, bad as it is, still is getting worse. In the oil spill counties, that spikes to 45 percent.

As noted, Obama, for his part, got 24 percent approval among residents of the affected counties for his own handling of the spill, far less than his (still weak) 41 percent approval on handling it nationally. Seventy-three percent in the Gulf disapproved, 59 percent "strongly," exceeding strong disapproval nationally by 19 points.

This was not limited to the spill itself; residents of these Gulf counties also were 8 to 16 points less apt to approve of Obama's performance across a range of other issues. Republican House candidates lead Democrats by a 21-point margin in these counties (it's a dead heat nationally). And residents of the affected counties were 16 points more apt than all Americans to say they'd like to see the Republican Party take control of Congress.

Some of this is purely partisan: Fifty-five percent of residents in the affected Gulf Coast counties are either Republicans or independents who lean toward the Republican Party, 14 points more than the share of leaned Republicans nationally. And self-identified Republicans in these counties were 16 points more apt than Republicans nationally to call themselves "strong" supporters of the party.

All the same, among Democrats and those who lean toward the Democratic Party, Obama's approval for handling the spill was substantially lower in the affected counties, 43 percent, than it was among leaned Democrats nationally, 60 percent.

METHODOLOGY: The ABC News-Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone July 7-11, 2010, among a random national sample of 1,288 adults, including landline and cell-phone-only respondents, and an oversample of residents in the Gulf Coast counties most affected by the oil spill for a total of 301 Gulf Coast county residents. The oversample was conducted in Cameron, Vermilion, Iberia, St. Mary, Terrebonne, Lafourche, Jefferson, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, Orleans and St. Tammany parishes in Louisiana; Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties in Mississippi; Mobile and Baldwin counties in Alabama; and Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay and Gulf counties in Florida. Results have a 3.5-point error margin for the full sample, 6.5 points for the Gulf Coast sample. Click here for a detailed description of sampling error. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, PA.

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