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Thursday, September 18, 2014 - 6:18pm

LSU studies polarization of public opinion regarding 'fracking'

Photo provided by LSU Media Relations
Friday, August 2, 2013 - 7:00am

The natural gas extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is currently a contentious issue across the country.

LSU’s Public Policy Research Lab, or PPRL, supported by the Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs at the Manship School of Mass Communication, hypothesized that the word “fracking” may be responsible for a negative connotation separate from environmental concerns that often accompany discussions of the process.

Harsh consonant sounds and an undeniable similarity to a certain other four letter word gave credence to this supposition, so PPRL ran questions in both the 2012 and 2013 Louisiana surveys to develop a baseline of statewide opinion. Results from those surveys can be found at www.survey.lsu.edu.

Also, together with the Opinion Research Corporation, PPRL ran a nationwide survey to test the national opinions. The approach used two near-identical surveys – one where subjects received queries using the term “fracking,” and the other where respondents were exposed to a full definition without the offending word.

On the national level, the results are twofold.
1) Respondents who did not hear the word “fracking” are more likely to say the process is safe, indicating that the unpleasant sound of the word might be impacting public opinion on the safety of the process. Thirty-seven percent of respondents say the process is “safe” when they hear the word “fracking” compared to 50 percent when they do not hear the word “fracking.”
2) When the word “fracking” is used, respondents are much more likely to answer that they “don’t know” if the process is safe or if the state should encourage drilling. This suggests that the word “fracking” is the subject of polarized and conflicting information/media coverage as respondents are far more likely to have a definitive opinion on hydraulic fracturing if the word “fracking” is not used.

Demographic breakdowns provide interesting findings, including gender-based and political disparities.

For instance, 48 percent of men answer “very safe” or “somewhat safe” when they hear the word “fracking” compared to 56 percent when they do not hear the word, but 26 percent of women answer “very safe” or “somewhat safe” when they hear “fracking,” compared to 44 percent of women who didn’t hear the word..

From the political party perspective, Democrats are more likely to definitively say the process is “not safe” when the word “fracking” is not used, at 30 percent compared to 46 percent. Democrats answering “very safe” or “somewhat safe” is more uniform (31 percent compared to 39 percent) but those who answer “don’t know” increase to 38 percent when “fracking” is said compared to 15 percent when it is not.

Republicans are more likely to say think the process is “safe” when the word “fracking” is not used, at 51 percent compared to 65 percent, but are also more likely to answer “don’t know” when the word is used.

For more information about the study, including a full report, visit www.survey.lsu.edu.

 

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