October 29, 2013

Poll: Southern Illinois voters divided over fracking

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A new poll by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale finds voters are divided over whether hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, should be encouraged for its economic benefits or discouraged because of its environmental impact.

There were 40.7 percent who said it should be encouraged and 39.7 percent who said it should be discouraged.  About 20 percent had no opinion.

“We can still see the newness of the issue when there are one in five people without an opinion. It’s hard to understand the consequences, good and bad, of fracking when many of us haven’t seen it first hand,” said Kent Dolezal, a Simon Institute research fellow who worked on the poll.

“Opinions on this issue will certainly evolve as the industry develops in the area. In these types of issues the extreme opinions, both for and against, garner most of the press. It may be hard for people to see their entry point in the discussion when it seems like there is no middle ground,” he said.

The survey of 403 registered voters in the 18 southernmost Illinois counties -- excluding the Metro East suburbs -- was taken Sept. 20 through Oct. 2.  The poll has a margin of error of 4.9 percent. The survey is the fourth “Southern Illinois Poll” the Simon Institute has conducted since 2010.

The survey found a plurality of respondents feel hydraulic fracturing is a somewhat safe natural gas and oil extraction technique. Nearly one-third of respondents saw hydraulic fracturing as not very safe or not at all safe, while one in 10 felt the technique is very safe.

“Much of the conversation around hydraulic fracturing has been about its safety to this point, and the numbers reflect that. Less than 10 percent of respondents didn’t know enough about the issue to comment on safety.” Dolezal said.

Hydraulic fracturing utilizes the high-pressure injection of water, sand, and chemicals into rock formations deep underground.

Results of the poll are available here.

Voters are divided on the fracking issue along gender and ideological lines.

  • There is a gender divide when it comes to whether hydraulic fracturing should be promoted for its perceived economic benefits or discouraged because of the possibility of environmental damage. Men favor its promotion at a rate of 54.3 percent, while only 31.5 percent of women feel likewise. Four in 10 women feel the technique possess too great of a risk environmentally with one-third of men taking a similar view. One-quarter of women surveyed felt they didn’t know enough about hydraulic fracturing to form an opinion on its promotion; the rate was one in 10 for men.
  • A plurality of native southern Illinoisans (44.6 percent) favored promotion of hydraulic fracturing, while 35.2 percent were more worried about environmental concerns. Those born outside of the region saw the issue with almost the opposite numbers, with 47.3 percent opposing the practice and 33.8 percent in favor.
  • On the ideological spectrum, little more than half of conservatives favored the promotion of hydraulic fracturing, while an almost identical number of liberals took the opposite view. Not quite half of moderates expressed environmental concerns with a bit more than one quarter favoring it.
  • A partisan divide is also evident. Three in five Republicans favored the promotion of hydraulic fracturing, while less than one-third of Democrats did.  When asked about environmental concerns, more than half of the Democrats and nearly one quarter of Republicans took this view. Independents had the highest level of environmental worries; 55.6 percent of those surveyed said they had environmental concerns with the technique. Only a quarter of independents favored its promotion. 

Exposure to the issue of fracking.

The survey found most people in region had heard or read of the technique of hydraulic fracturing, with 32.3 percent saying they had read or heard “a lot” on the issue while 37.5 percent stated they had heard or read “some.” Only one in 10 stated they had heard or read “nothing so far.” Men were slightly more likely to have read or heard of the hydraulic fracturing issue than women.

Educational attainment was a significant factor in the issue. Nearly half of respondents who had completed college stating they had read or heard “a lot” on the issue, while only a quarter of those completing just high school said the same thing the same.

Perceptions of safety

Men are more than twice as likely to see hydraulic fracturing as very safe compared to women, at 13.6 percent and 6.6 percent, respectively. A bit more than half of men see the technique as being “somewhat safe,” while only three in 10 women feel likewise. Women are almost twice as likely to see hydraulic fracturing as ‘not at all safe” compared to men, at 14.9 and 8.0 percent respectively.

Ideology and political party affiliation do seem to affect one’s view towards hydraulic fracturing with those describing themselves as conservative or claiming to be Republicans seeing the technique as safer than those describe as liberal or identifying as part of the Democratic Party. Two-thirds of Republicans and three of five conservatives view the extraction method as at least “somewhat safe.” Conversely, two of five liberals or Democratic voters find the technique to be not very or not at all safe.

Independents tend to be more skeptical than those claiming party affiliation.  One quarter of independents view hydraulic fracturing as not at all safe. Another quarter of independents feel they don’t know enough about the technique to have an opinion on its safety, the highest of any group.

Safety perceptions of the technique are not significantly different between native southern Illinoisans and migrants to the area. There was no significant difference when it came to education level as well.

The coal industry and coal miners

When it comes to the established resource extraction industry, southern Illinoisans have a favorable attitude toward the coal industry and the people who work in the mines. More than 90 percent of those surveyed had at least a favorable view of the industry and those who work in it. Native southern Illinoisans are nearly twice as likely to have a very favorable attitude toward the industry compared to those who have moved to the area. The gap closes somewhat between the groups when it comes to the actual miners with nearly one-third of southern Illinois natives having a very favorable view of miners while one in five migrants to the area have a similar view.

Regardless of gender, ideological bent, party affiliation, education level, or whether one is native to the area, survey respondents showed that a strong majority sees the coal industry in a favorable light. Even where one may believe strong opposition could be found, only 20.9 percent of liberals surveyed viewed the coal industry as unfavorable. When it came to the miners themselves, liberals had similar favorability ratings to moderates and conservatives.

The poll of 403 registered voters covered the 18 southernmost counties in Illinois: Alexander, Franklin, Gallatin, Hamilton, Hardin, Jackson, Jefferson, Johnson, Massac, Perry, Pope, Pulaski, Randolph, Saline, Union, Washington, White, and Williamson.

Live phone interviews were conducted Sept. 20 through Oct. 2. The sample has a margin for error of 4.9 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. This means that if we conducted the survey 100 times, in 95 of those instances, the result would be within plus or minus 4.9 percentage points from the results obtained here. The sample included 30 percent cell phone interviews.

Telephone interviews were conducted by Customer Research International of San Marcos, Texas. It reports no Illinois political figures as clients. The poll was paid for with non-state dollars using proceeds from the Institute’s endowment fund.

For more information contact Charles Leonard at 618/303-9099 or David Yepsen, Institute director, at 618/453-4009.

Note: The “Simon Poll” and “Southern Illinois Poll” are copyrighted trademarks of the Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University. Use of publication of these polls is encouraged, but only with credit to the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.