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Americans Critical of Oil Spill Response; Keeping Close Tabs

Americans Critical of Oil Spill Response; Keeping Close Tabs

by Lymari Morales

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- With President Barack Obama and BP taking their most aggressive steps yet in response to the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the majority of Americans express clear displeasure with their efforts so far.

Response to Oil Spill

The results are from a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted May 24-25, 2010 -- just before BP began its aggressive "top kill" effort to plug the massive leak in the Gulf of Mexico and as Obama prepared a White House press conference and Gulf Coast visit to amplify the government's involvement. Since the oil rig explosion and resulting spill April 20, BP has been unable to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf while drilling regulators have been accused of having dangerously close ties to the oil and gas industry.

Americans' dissatisfaction with BP's efforts is particularly strong. Looking at the extreme responses, 39% of Americans earlier this week called BP's response "very poor" compared to 21% for the federal government and 19% for Obama. "Very good" ratings were almost non-existent for all three players -- with 11% saying so about Obama's efforts, compared with 6% for BP and 5% for the federal government.

The federal government said Monday it had no plans to take control of the efforts from BP, a decision Americans appear to support. More than two-thirds (68%) say the oil company should be in charge of efforts to clean up and contain the spill, while 28% say so about the federal government.

With the ultimate long-term impact far from clear, Americans agree the situation is a "disaster." Nearly 4 in 10 (37%) say it will be "the worst environmental disaster in 100 years," while about the same number (35%) call it a disaster, but not the worst in 100 years. Fewer call it a major problem (23%) or a minor one (3%).

These views appear to be based on a close level of awareness of exactly what is happening. With 87% saying they are following news of the oil spill closely including 47% "very closely," it ranks among the top 10 most closely followed news stories Gallup has measured since 1991.

Attention Paid to Major News Events

Those who are following news of the oil spill very closely are more likely to predict it will be the worst environmental disaster in at least 100 years and to more negatively rate the job BP, Obama, and the federal government are doing in response to the spill.

Bottom Line

With Americans clearly displeased with the oil spill response so far, the success of the "top kill" procedure BP initiated Wednesday and Obama's visit to the region on Friday have the potential to play a pivotal role in how Americans view the situation going forward. With so many Americans watching the news closely, it's a fair assumption that they're watching and waiting for news that the oil has, at the very least, stopped gushing, but the work to be done -- both in the Gulf and in terms of public opinion -- certainly won't end there.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted May 24-25, 2010 with a random sample of -1,049-adults, aged 18+, living in the continental U.S., selected using a random-digit dial sampling technique.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone only). Each sample includes a minimum quota of 150 cell phone only respondents and 850 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted on the basis of gender, age, race, education, region and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2009 Current Population Survey figures for the age 18+ non-institutionalized population living in continental U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

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