The findings

Published 1:24 am Sunday, September 28, 2008

By Staff
behind the headlines
When the latest Elon University Poll was released last week, headlines across the country touted one finding, that people in North Carolina overwhelmingly support drilling for oil and natural gas off the state’s coast.
Sixty-nine percent of respondents either supported or strongly supported drilling even just three miles offshore. The poll confirmed what politicians already knew and what they were doing, using the frustration with gas prices to mislead voters for political gain.
Another finding by the same poll that didn’t make any headlines found that almost half the people surveyed believed that it would take less than 10 years for offshore drilling to affect gas prices, 14 percent thought gas prices would go down almost immediately.
Some press accounts did cite a study by the federal government last year that found that it may be 2030 before 200,000 gallons of oil was produced, and that’s from drilling off the coasts of states on both sides of the country, not just North Carolina.
The study also concluded that even then, the new oil wouldn’t have much effect on retail prices because it would only be a tiny fraction of the country’s current oil usage and prices are set in the world market anyway.
None of that matters to the politicians of course. They can read polls too and would rather benefit from the understandable anxiety about high gas prices than educate voters about the effects of drilling on the price at the pump, not to mention the environment.
The folks in the market fundamentalist think tanks were beside themselves with glee at the poll results, as were the politicians leading the “drill here, drill now” crowd.
But almost no one reported what else the people think about drilling. Almost half of those surveyed did not think the oil companies should own the oil and gas extracted from the sea, 36 percent thought they should.
That doesn’t mesh very well with the free market dogma we are always told is so popular. People would rather the government own the oil than the oil companies.
The Elon Poll has other findings that deserve attention and also point to the growing desperation felt by many people in North Carolina. Roughly two-thirds of those surveyed believe that the national economy will not improve in the next year. The numbers were only slightly better when people were asked about the possibility of improvement in the state economy.
People also want to hear more about the candidates’ plans to address the health care crisis, identifying it as the most important issue facing the state after the economy and education.
The free market absolutists can’t be too happy about what the poll found when it asked about solutions to health care problems. More people preferred a universal health insurance system than the system we currently have. And the poll didn’t pull any punches.
The question asked which voters would prefer, “the current health care system in which most people have private health insurance and some people are not covered by insurance or a universal health program in which everyone is covered under a program that’s run by the government and funded by taxpayers.
Forty percent of people said the current system and 44 percent preferred a health care program that the question explicitly defined as government run and taxpayer funded.
The poll sends a clear message that most politicians and many pundits don’t want to hear. It is true that people are mad about high gas prices and have been misled into thinking drilling will lower them soon.
But they don’t want the big oil companies to make money off of North Carolina oil. And they trust the government more than the multinational energy corporations and more than the private health insurance industry.
Now that would make an interesting political commercial.