Coal ash questions provide rare common ground for Republicans and Democrats
Posted April 1, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — A recent WRAL News-Survey USA poll surveyed voters about North Carolina politics and governments. Stories from the poll highlighted North Carolinians’ negative views about the state of the economy and previewed the U.S. Senate race.
The more interesting results, I think, involved questions about Duke Energy.
The Duke questions are interesting for at least two reasons: 1. they reveal agreement among Republicans and Democrats when that rarely occurs in polls, and 2. the coal ash spill could affect the 2014 general election.
As you have probably learned, Duke was cited as responsible for the third-largest coal ash spill in our nation’s history. While Duke will bear the costs for cleaning up this spill that contaminated the Dan River, environmentalists have pointed out that multiple Duke storage locations are vulnerable to similar environmental disasters. Assuming Duke takes action regarding these sites, who should pay – Duke shareholders or the ratepayers, i.e., the public?
WRAL News asked this question for the first time. Previously, Public Policy Polling asked if Duke should play for cleaning up the Dan River spill, and unsurprisingly 79 percent said "yes."
What about paying to prevent possible, not actual, future spills? WRAL News found that 88 percent of North Carolinians said Duke should pay cleanup costs to secure coal ash sites. Respondents agreed, regardless of their party identification or political ideology. I can name on one hand the number of issues in which Republicans and Democrats agree, so this consensus should not be taken lightly.
Party identification is dominant. Hardly any issue is immune to biased partisan perceptions. When a Republican is president, for example, Democrats see government power as a threat to liberties, while Republicans don’t. Opinions are reversed when a Democrat is president.
Of course, these results don’t mean that Democrats and Republicans equally care about the issue or would vote against politicians who are perceived as favoring Duke. Nevertheless, just 23 percent of respondents said they approved of how the state was handling the spill, and respondents’ partisanship was irrelevant to their opinions.
Republicans in North Carolina might want to pay attention. These polling results suggest a road map for Democrats and their allies to paint Republicans as too business-friendly and unconcerned with protecting the environment. Just 8 percent or respondents said the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources should primarily help business navigate regulations, while 39 percent said its job was to protect the environment and another 49 percent said these goals should be evenly balanced.
U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan faces an uphill climb. The national environment is unfavorable to any Democrat running right now, and the environment is rarely an issue motivating the vote for more than a small subset of voters. Nevertheless, the Dan River spill has generated partisan consensus in North Carolina, and that might make a difference in November.