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Protecting Environment Gets Public Support As Priority

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37 percent of those polled said low prices should take precedence over the environment.
SHRM/National Journal/Pew Research Center
37 percent of those polled said low prices should take precedence over the environment.

From Congressional Connection Poll:

By Jason Dick

President Obama is going to great lengths to show his administration's concern about the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, making multiple trips to the region and dedicating his first speech from the Oval Office tonight on the topic.

He might find a receptive public, according to the latest Society for Human Resource Management/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, conducted with the Pew Research Center.

Overall, 56 percent of those surveyed said "protecting the environment" should be the more important priority for U.S. energy policy over "keeping energy prices low." 37 percent said low prices should take precedence over the environment.

The margin is striking considering the economy has not fully recovered and gasoline prices usually spike during the summer travel season. But the scale of the spill might be driving opinions as oil washes up on Gulf beaches, the economic impact of the drop in tourism takes hold and the impact on the region's fisheries deepens. "What we're seeing in the Gulf is a catastrophe the likes of which we've never seen before," White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton said during his press gaggle on Air Force One en route to Gulfport, Miss., Monday morning.

The administration cast a bipartisan net Monday, as Obama toured Mississippi and Alabama while meeting with three Republican governors, Haley Barbour of Mississippi, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Bob Riley of Alabama, along with members of Congress from both parties: Reps. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., and Jo Bonner, R-Ala., and Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.

"Folks around the table here have been working 24/7. The governors, they've been on a constant state of full alert and have been putting in a lot of time and a lot of energy working with Thad Allen to make sure that in dealing with this disaster, we are minimizing the short-term impacts, and we're making sure that we've got the resources to fully recover," Obama said in Gulfport.

Later on, he toured the Theodore Staging Facility in Theodore, Ala., telling oil boom repair workers there that "it's going to take a while" to clean up the oil spill. "We haven't seen anything like this before."

In his speech tonight, Obama "is going to talk directly with the American people about some of the steps that we've taken to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf, some of the things we've done to mitigate the damage that's caused by the oil that's spilled out already and what we're going to do moving forward here," according to Burton.

Along party lines, Democrats and independents are solidly behind the environment as a priority over keeping energy prices low. 68 percent of Democrats felt protecting the environment should be the top priority, and 59 percent of independents felt that way.

Among Republicans, 41 percent said protecting the environment should take precedence, while 52 percent said keeping prices low should be more important.

There is a gender gap here, too. 60 percent of females rated the environment as more important, compared to 34 percent who said low prices were. 52 percent of males surveyed said the environment should take precedence, compared to 39 percent who favor keeping prices low.

Still, by and large, the public is split on their attitudes about offshore drilling. When asked what should be U.S. policy toward offshore oil and gas drilling, 35 percent said the government should continue existing offshore drilling but ban new drilling, and 31 percent said the government should expand drilling, within the poll's four-point error margin. 22 percent said the government should ban all offshore drilling.

The poll of 1,010 adults who were reached by landline or cell phone was conducted Thursday through Sunday. The margin of error is four points for the entire sample, with larger error margins for subgroups.

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