Behind Public Opinion: What Makes Hydraulic Fracturing Controversial

By Prodanovic, Mattie | Chicago Policy Review (Online), April 11, 2014 | Go to article overview

Behind Public Opinion: What Makes Hydraulic Fracturing Controversial


Prodanovic, Mattie, Chicago Policy Review (Online)


Understanding individual perceptions can help explain public opinion polls about hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as 'fracking', has been an incredibly controversial method of extracting oil in the United States since its beginnings in the early 2000s. There are hundreds of polls regarding the issue, each one showing a sharp divide between supporters and their opposition. While it is important to understand where the public stands on the issue, it is equally if not more important to understand why individuals formed these opinions. This lacking area of research is important for those working in policymaking or regulation of hydraulic fracturing to shape their arguments in a way that is effective for their desired results. In "Fracking Controversy and Communication: Using National Survey Data to Understand Public Perceptions of Hydraulic Fracturing," Boudet et al. attempt to explain the logic behind individual perceptions on hydraulic fracturing. They do so by collecting national survey data from the Climate Change in the American Mind Survey from September 2012 and analyzing questions that speak to specific factors that shape respondents' perceptions. These factors are socio-demographics, affective imagery, geographic location, worldviews, political ideology, media use, and issue familiarity. They then use a model to find the relative impact of each factor and its ability to predict support or opposition to hydraulic fracturing. In accordance with the authors' hypotheses, female gender and Egalitarian worldviews are negative predictors of support for fracturing. The authors also find that age, conservative political ideology, and formal education are all positively associated with support. The positive association between support and formal education is the opposite of what the authors originally predicted. Prior polls show that more formal education is associated with more familiarity with hydraulic fracturing, which they find is negatively associated with support in their own survey. Therefore, these results are somewhat inconsistent with the authors' hypothesis as well as prior research. …

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