To frack or not to frack? This question has grown into a key issue for many of Pennsylvania’s voters. In its latest poll, Franklin & Marshall College asked registered voters in the Commonwealth their attitudes toward the natural gas industry, and where their support lies in the 2020 presidential election.
Their poll yielded interesting results related to natural gas that raise questions about the future of the industry and its operations in Pennsylvania, especially in hydraulic fracturing. Respondents were asked their opinion on the shale gas industry as a whole and whether they would support a ban on fracking as some other states have done.
The results indicated that, in sum, a slim majority of 48 percent of voters support shale drilling in Pennsylvania. However, and somewhat contradictory, a 49 percent majority of voters believe that the environmental risks of drilling outweigh the economic potential that the industry brings. Ultimately, the poll indicates that, though a majority of voters support the industry in Pennsylvania, an equal majority support a total ban on fracking as seen in New York and Maryland. Of a total of 628 individual respondents, 48 percent support a total fracking ban, the same percentage of those who support shale drilling in Pennsylvania.
For the most part, party alliances dictate a respondent’s position, with Democrats largely in favor of a fracking ban and Republicans opposing. However, some Republicans have crossed party lines indicating a slight, but noteworthy, change in partisan allegiance on this issue. Independents are evenly split on the issue with both support and opposition at 44 percent.
When broken down into political ideology (liberal, moderate, or conservative), not party affiliation, a larger number of liberals and a smaller number of conservatives favor a ban than their respective political party. Those who identified as liberal were more likely to favor a ban than those who identify as a Democrat, while conservatives oppose a fracking ban at a higher rate than Republicans. Moderates have made their position more clear than independents. A total of 51 percent of moderates support a ban, 8 percent more than independents, while only 35 percent oppose a ban rather than the moderates at 43 percent. Independent and moderate voters are often the “swing” votes that decide elections, and in this case, the consensus does seem to favor a ban on fracking.
While every Democratic presidential candidate plans to address fracking at some level, as of now, only two viable Democratic candidates support a total ban: Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Those two candidates place second and third respectively for Democratic voters in PA, according to the poll, with Joe Biden, who plans on beefing up regulations on fracking, taking the majority. President Trump, an outspoken supporter of fracking and the shale industry who is expected to win the Republican nomination for a second term, has no such plan to impose a ban or moratorium on fracking nationally.
Energy is not the top issue in the primary for Democrats polled. According to the results, the top issue in the state is health care, with the environment coming third. Although energy may not be the top concern among Democrats, the 2020 election has the potential to dramatically affect the shale gas industry in the Marcellus and Utica shale basins and across the nation.