Oil Spill Seen as Ecological Disaster; Government, BP Responses Faulted

  • May 11, 2010

A majority of Americans see the massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico as a major environmental disaster, but nearly as many voice optimism that efforts to control the spill will succeed.

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted May 6-9 among 994 adults, finds that the public is critical of the response to the crisis by the federal government and British Petroleum, the company that operated the oil rig that exploded on April 20 and is now struggling to stop the underwater oil release.

Evaluations of the initial government response are similar to public views of federal efforts immediately after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005. Currently, 54% say the response by the federal government has been only fair or poor, which is comparable to the government's initial rating for handling Hurricane Katrina in September 2005 (58% only fair/poor). Nonetheless, British Petroleum gets even more negative ratings for its handling of the oil leak (63% only fair/poor).

The criticism extends to President Obama, with just 38% saying they approve of his handling of the oil leak and 36% saying they disapprove. About a quarter (26%) offer no opinion. Still, opinion about Obama's performance is not as negative as opinion about former President George W. Bush's response to the flooding caused by Katrina. That September, 52% disapproved of Bush's response to Katrina and 67% said he could have done more. Today, 47% say Obama could have done more to get the government's response to the oil leak going quickly.

The spill also appears to have taken a toll on support for offshore drilling near the United States. Currently, 54% say they favor allowing more offshore drilling for oil and gas in U.S. waters, which is down from 63% in early February and 68% in April 2009. Virtually all of the decline in support for offshore drilling has occurred among Democrats and independents as Republicans remain as supportive as they were before the spill.

Read the full report Oil Spill Seen as Ecological Disaster; Government, BP Responses Faulted on the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press' Web site.