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Poll: Despite spill, support for oil drilling high

Despite the recent Gulf Coast spill, six in 10 Americans support more offshore drilling, with a majority believing that the potential economic benefits outweigh the environmental risks.
Obama Holds Summit With Karzai At White House
President Barack Obama’s overall approval rating sits at 50 percent, a two-point increase from March.Brendan Smialowski / Getty Images
/ Source: NBC News

Drill, baby, drill.

Even after the recent — and highly publicized — oil spill in the Gulf Coast, that’s the overwhelming sentiment from the public, with six in 10 Americans supporting more offshore drilling, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

In addition, a majority believes that the potential economic benefits of offshore drilling outweigh its potential harm to the environment.

Those aren’t the only striking results from this survey, which was conducted after several significant and newsworthy events:

  • Nearly two-thirds of Americans back Arizona’s new controversial immigration law;
  • After the failed car bomb in Times Square, 58 percent of respondents say they’re worried this country will experience another terrorist attack, the highest percentage on this question in almost five years;
  • And in the wake of the federal government’s fraud charges against Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs, a clear majority thinks that the biggest concern about the financial reform legislation moving through Congress is that it won’t go far enough to rein in Wall Street’s perceived excesses.

The more things change ...
Yet given these events and findings, perhaps the biggest takeaway from the poll is that the overall political environment remains virtually unchanged.

Half of the nation still approves of President Barack Obama’s job performance; Republicans continue to enjoy an enthusiasm advantage heading into the upcoming midterm elections; and more than eight in 10 remain dissatisfied about the economy.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same,” says Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff. “The dynamics of 2010 are overriding any of these huge events that are happening.”

Adds McInturff, “We have a corrosive economy, and that economy is continuing to be a weight on the political system.”

The poll — which was conducted May 6-10 of 1,000 adults, and which has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points — comes after the explosion of an oil rig in the Gulf Coast and its subsequent spill.

Offshore drilling, immigration, terrorism
Despite the spill, 60 percent say they support allowing for more drilling off U.S. coasts, and 53 percent believe that offshore drilling’s potential economic benefits outweigh its potential harm to the environment.

The public is split on the federal government’s response to the spill: 45 percent say it has not done enough, while 43 percent say it has done enough.

By comparison, 50 percent say that British Petroleum, which leased the oil rig, has not done enough, versus 37 percent who think that it has.

Another significant event in recent weeks was Arizona’s new anti-illegal immigration law, which makes it a state crime for a person to be in the country illegally. It also requires local and state law enforcement officials to question people about their immigration status if they suspect those persons are in the country illegally.

Sixty-four percent favor this law, and 34 percent oppose it. But those numbers are essentially reversed among Latinos — with 70 percent of them opposing the law, and only 27 percent supporting it.

Even though almost two-thirds of the public supports Arizona’s law, nearly an identical number (66 percent) believe it will lead to the discrimination of Latino immigrants who reside in the U.S. legally.

A third event that took place in recent days was the failed car bombing in New York’s Times Square. According to the poll, 58 percent say they are worried that the United States will experience another major terrorist attack — the highest score on this question since 2005.

What’s more, a majority of Americans (52 percent) say they are willing to give up personal freedoms and civil liberties to prevent another terrorist attack. And another majority (51 percent) approve of using racial or ethnic profiling to combat terrorism.

Asked which of these recent stories concerned them more, 38 percent cited the Gulf Coast spill, 31 percent said the failed Times Square bombing, 19 percent mentioned Arizona’s new immigration law and 8 percent said the charges against Goldman Sachs.

Obama, the midterms and health care
Despite these events — as well as the Dow Jones Industrial Average’s nearly 1,000-point temporary drop last Thursday (which occurred as this poll was being conducted) — the political environment remains surprisingly stable.

Obama’s overall approval rating sits at 50 percent, a two-point increase from March.

Also, the approval of his handling of the economy is now a net-positive 48 percent to 46 percent, versus his net-negative 47 percent to 50 percent rating from two months ago.

And a combined 69 percent say they like the president personally, even if some don’t approve of his policies. But that is down from the combined 75 percent who said they personally liked him in January.

Looking ahead to the November midterm elections, Democrats and Republicans are tied on the generic ballot question — with 44 percent preferring a Democratic-controlled Congress and 44 percent preferring a GOP-controlled Congress.

In fact, it’s only the second time in the past seven years in the poll when Republicans have pulled exactly even with Democrats on this question (and the first time was January 2010).

Republicans also enjoy a significant advantage among those most enthusiastic about the midterms — they prefer the GOP controlling Congress by 20 points.

Opinions of the health care legislation, which Obama signed into law back in March, haven’t changed much, either.

In the poll, 38 percent think Obama’s health plan is a good idea, while 44 percent say it’s a bad idea — only a slight improvement from the 36 percent to 48 percent good/bad score before the legislation passed.

That said, 55 percent say they are more likely to support a congressional candidate who believes the new law should be given a chance to work, compared with 42 percent who will back a candidate supporting the law’s repeal.

Still sour on the economy, Congress
Perceptions of the U.S. economy also haven’t changed much, despite data (like the 290,000 jobs created in April) pointing to a recovery.

A whopping 81 percent say they’re dissatisfied with the economy, and 76 percent believe the country is still mired in a recession.

“The grassroots is not feeling the economic recovery yet,” says Hart, the Democratic pollster.

And the grim outlook extends to other topics — 56 percent think country is headed on the wrong track, 72 percent disapprove of Congress and both the Democratic and Republican parties have negative favorable ratings.

The one true bright spot in the poll: General Motors, which has seen its favorable rating jump from 18 percent after its federal government bailout to 37 percent now.

Mark Murray covers politics for NBC News.