WASHINGTON — Arctic drilling may not be a top tier topic in the Nov. 4 mid-term elections, but new polling suggests that endorsing oil and gas exploration in remote waters north of Alaska could be a winning strategy for some candidates in tight Senate contests.
In Alaska, where incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich is being challenged by Republican Dan Sullivan, 73 percent of likely voters surveyed by Hickman Analytics said they supported allowing offshore oil and natural gas drilling in Arctic waters north of the state. More broadly, 72 percent said they supported expanding offshore oil and gas drilling in U.S. waters.
And in Louisiana, where Democrat Mary Landrieu is facing off against Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness, offshore drilling in U.S. Arctic waters is supported by 66 percent of likely voters. Seventy-six percent of likely Louisiana voters said they support expanding offshore drilling in all U.S. waters.
The telephone survey, which was conducted for the oil industry-backed Consumer Energy Alliance, found slightly less clear-cut support for Arctic drilling in Georgia, where there is a tight race between Republican David Perdue and Democrat Michelle Nunn. There, 59 percent of the 500 likely voters who were surveyed said they supported allowing Arctic drilling, compared to 21 percent who said they oppose it.
Energy is a major issue in the Louisiana and Alaska Senate races, as well as the contest over Alaska’s governorship.
In Louisiana, Landrieu has played up her deep ties to the oil and gas industry and her role atop the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
In Alaska, Begich has touted his support for oil and gas development in Arctic waters north of the state, while Sullivan has accused him of failing to secure substantive commitments to advance the activity. Meanwhile, Republican Gov. Sean Parnell’s support for oil tax changes in Alaska has been attacked by his opponents, Bill Walker, a Republican running as an independent, and his Democratic running mate Byron Mallott.
Nationwide, other topics such as the economy, health care and immigration are eclipsing energy in motivating voters, according to recent surveys. Low gasoline prices may be one reason energy seems to be on the back burner.
But David Holt, president of the Consumer Energy Alliance, notes that energy itself is an economic issue. Oil prices have declined against the backdrop of tempered Asian demand and soaring U.S. production.
“It’s on the minds of voters, even though gasoline prices and global oil prices have gone down,” Holt said. “We’re producing so much more it’s acting as a nice hedge on global oil prices.”
Holt said the survey demonstrates the zeal for oil and gas development in Alaska.
Alaska residents collect an annual dividend from the state’s permanent fund, a repository fed by oil and gas revenue.
There often is an “insinuation that folks in Alaska do not support development of their natural resources,” Holt said. “These polls that we’ve just done clearly show that they do support it and not only strongly support it, overwhelmingly support it. It’s not even close.”
The survey was conducted in late September and early October, with 400 to 502 likely voters from each of the three states.