Appalachian Basin

Support of Fracking and Pro-Energy Candidates Strong Among Voters

Ahead of the Democratic presidential debate tonight in New York, anti-fracking activists have been ramping up their rhetoric to put pressure on the candidates to support a ban on fracking. But considering that recent polls and studies have found that Americans who live in shale developing areas strongly support fracking and pro-energy candidates, the ban fracking position doesn’t look like the best political move.

A recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) published late last year showed that in areas with a local boom in shale development there was an increased voter preference for pro-energy candidates (often Republicans) – even in areas that historically vote Democratic.

In fact, the researchers found the probability of a change in incumbency, from Democrat to Republican, nearly doubled following a boom in the region’s oil and natural gas industry. Researchers argue the driving force behind this change is the economic prosperity shale development creates. As the authors state:

Our results also identify an important factor that can influence broad-based political change: positive economic shocks linked to energy development. This relates to a large literate which has sought to identify the drivers of political change…we extend this literature by documenting that an exogenous economic shock stemming from a technological innovation influences elections and political change.” (emphasis added, pg. 6)

This study contradicts recent claims that support for fracking among Republicans is waning. Specifically, a Gallup poll released in March claimed an 11 percent drop in support for fracking among Republicans. But looking deeper into the poll’s methodology, it becomes clear how such a discrepancy could occur: the poll was conducted in all 50 states and those with greater population, such as New York or Chicago, were weighted more significantly. As the poll states:

“Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, non-response, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both and cell phone mostly). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2015 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the January-June 2015 National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the 2010 census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.”

Currently, shale development takes place in more rural areas of the country which inherently have smaller populations. Additionally, some states, like Rhode Island, don’t have fracking taking place at all. It would then be reasonable to assume that states with large populations, limited regional applications of fracking, and no firsthand experience with the technique among the vast majority of the population, wouldn’t be able to give an educated opinion on fracking or would be less likely to support it. Those same people would then be given a greater impact on the poll results based on Gallup’s weighting system.

Put simply, those Republicans polled in Midland, TX, who know fracking is safe and have prospered from the technology, were weighted significantly less in the Gallup poll than Republicans polled in New York City, where no fracking is taking place and the process is banned.

But you don’t have to compare two different states to reach this same conclusion. As researchers from the NBER study point out, while Governor Andrew Cuomo’s decision to ban fracking in 2014 was met with support in New York City; this was not the case in the state’s rural communities near the Pennsylvania boarder who stood to benefit from shale development. In fact, following the ban, and after seeing the wealth fracking brought the bordering communities in Pennsylvania, many of these towns threatened to secede from New York in order to join Pennsylvania.

It’s not just those who could benefit supporting fracking however, but more so those familiar with the process. A recent University of Texas (UT) survey shows that among the 47 percent of respondents familiar with fracking, 10 percent more were in favor of fracking than those who oppose the technique. Moreover, 65 percent of Republicans surveyed support fracking, along with almost a third of Democrats.

These findings from the NBER study and UT pool echo the results from other polls on the issue of oil and natural gas production. For example, a survey conducted for the American Petroleum Institute (API) in November found that almost 80 percent of those surveyed said they support increased shale development. Additionally, among those surveyed, 71 percent of voters said they are more likely to support a candidate who supports producing more oil and natural gas – this includes 64 percent of Democrats and a staggering 85 percent of Republicans.

Overall, it’s clear there is increasing support for fracking, and for those who are proponents of energy development, especially in areas where fracking is taking place. As the NBER study and multiple polls show, this support for shale development stems from those familiar with fracking. This is because once people have a better understanding of the process, see that fracking is safe and experience the immense benefits oil and natural gas production creates, they can’t help but be in favor of it.

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