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Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: To Drill or Not to Drill?

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: To Drill or Not to Drill?

by Darren K. Carlson

Two ostensibly significant issues, with very ideologically different constituents and backers, face America today: dependence on foreign oil and the protection of natural resources. At the apex of the conflict between these two opposing viewpoints is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska. Members of the Bush administration, citing economic concerns, see drilling in ANWR as a way to alleviate American dependence on oil that an increasingly volatile Middle East region supplies. Democratic leaders, citing findings from a study that Interior Department biologists conducted, believe drilling in ANWR poses a serious environmental risk to a variety of wildlife.

When the issue is presented to the American public, more Americans say they oppose the idea of opening up ANWR for oil exploration than favor it. However, the margin between the opposing opinions is not large. In a March 4-7 Gallup survey*, 56% of Americans said they opposed opening up ANWR for oil exploration, while 40% said they favored the idea. These results are fairly consistent with the results from three previous times Gallup has asked the question, regardless of whether the question was posed as an environmental issue or an energy issue. Since March 2001, the number opposed to exploring ANWR has ranged from 51% to 57%, while the number in favor ranged from 38% to 44%.

Opinions on whether to explore ANWR for oil vary significantly by age. Younger Americans are more likely to say they oppose exploring ANWR. Among 18-to 29-year-olds, two-thirds (66%) say they oppose the idea, as do 62% of Americans aged 30 to 49. The percent opposing exploration decreases significantly among 50-to 64-year-olds (51%), and those over age 65 (40%), among whom a majority of 52% favors the proposal.

Political affiliation and opinion on the environmental movement are also strongly correlated with public opinion on this particular issue. Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to say they oppose exploring ANWR for oil -- 68% to 42%. Similarly, 67% of those who claim to be "active" in the environmental movement oppose exploring ANWR, compared to 40% of those who are "neutral" about the environmental movement.

*These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,006 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 4-7, 2002. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3%. 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.

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