Support for off-shore drilling has always been high among Republican voters, one of the constituencies that Republican Senators go to congress to represent. The other constituency is the fossil energy industry itself, that puts considerable financial clout behind electing Republicans to represent the interests of the oil and gas industry.
However, the catastrophic sea floor oil well blowout in the Gulf could also blow out a schism between these two constituencies for Senate Republicans, separating Republican Joe six-pack from Big Oil, and weakening the case for including dirty energy in the clean energy bill.
A Rasmussen Poll reveals a sharp drop in support for off-shore drilling among all groups within two weeks after the oil well blew up, even among Republican voters, in a survey of 1,000 “likely voters”. Democrats dropped from 54% to 41% support, Independents from 72% to 58%, and Republican support dropped from 86% to 77%.
Concern that off-shore drilling could cause environmental problems jumped after the spill, from 49% overall in March to 69% this week. Of this group, 34% are Very Concerned. Of those 29% who were Not Concerned about the possibility of environmental damage, only 6% were Not At All Concerned.
Eighty-nine percent (89%) of all voters say they are following news reports about the offshore drilling incident in the Gulf of Mexico, including 53% who are following Very Closely. There has been a nine point drop in support among Republican voters for off-shore drilling, already.
If the damage goes on for months and if it continues to be covered by the media, Republican voters may eventually turn against the ridiculous idea of including off-shore oil drilling in a clean energy bill. Their support could go below 50%.
Some off-shore drilling was needed in order to get the votes needed to hurdle the 60 vote filibuster that Republicans use to prevent simple majority votes in the Senate now that Democrats hold a majority. There’s easily a majority vote of 51 votes for clean energy, but just not 60. Never mind that off-shore oil drilling does nothing to reduce carbon emissions.
The oil industry is well served by the intransigence of these Senators. But there are signs that Senate votes on off-shore drilling are weakening. “Whether it should be there in the future is an open question,” now says Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN). “The continued failure to stop the leak threatens to wreak untold damage on Florida’s coastlines” says Senator LeMieux (R-FL). “We need to move heaven and earth to stop this from becoming an environmental disaster.”
A massive change in public opinion could pit Republican voters against the oil and gas industry that ensures that Republican Senators prevent action on the climate and clean energy bill that could wean us off oil.