A new survey conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University shows that Americans are divided over whether to increase offshore oil drilling, and a majority believes the risks outweigh the benefits.

51 percent of those surveyed said the environmental risks outweigh the benefits; 35 percent think the benefits outweigh the environmental risks. However, opinion among the general population about increasing offshore oil drilling is currently divided with 45 percent in support of increasing offshore drilling and 44 percent opposed.

Views about offshore drilling are likely influenced by the major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, according to the survey. The VCU Life Sciences Survey was conducted by landline and cell telephone with 1,001 adults nationwide from May 12-18, 2010. The margin of error for the poll is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points. This is the ninth VCU Life Sciences Survey, conducted for VCU Life Sciences by the VCU Center for Public Policy.

When asked to evaluate a series of environmental and energy issues as potential problems for the country, the most widespread concern is pollution. Eight in 10 adults say pollution of the country’s rivers, lakes and reservoirs is a major problem, 16 percent say it is a minor problem and just 3 percent say this is not a problem. Air pollution is seen as a major problem by 74 percent of adults; a similar percentage (73 percent) says the same about overreliance on energy from oil and gas.

Global warming, by comparison, is one of the least likely issues to be seen as a major problem; 54 percent say it is a major problem, 23 percent consider it a minor problem and 19 percent say it is not a problem. Views about global warming are divided along partisan lines. Seven in 10 Democrats say global warming is a major problem. This compares with 27 percent of Republicans saying the same. A majority (53 percent) of independents think global warming is a major problem.

Perceptions of scientific consensus about global warming lean to the view that scientists are divided over global warming. A plurality (49 percent) believes that many scientists have serious doubts about the evidence on global warming; 37 percent believe the evidence is widely accepted in the scientific community. Views about global warming and the need for government action to reduce global warming are split along partisan lines.

Other survey findings:

Evolution, Religion and Scientific Consensus 

A majority of the public has heard about the theory of evolution, but most report beliefs about life’s origins that diverge sharply from it. A plurality of Americans reports beliefs about the origins of life that are consistent with a “creation” perspective; 43 percent of the nation believes that God directly created life in its present form. Another 24 percent say life developed over time with guidance from God during the process; this view is compatible with an “intelligent design” or a “theistic evolution” view of life’s origins. A minority of 18 percent hold beliefs consistent with the theory of evolution saying that life developed over time without guidance from God.

Beliefs about the origins of life have not shifted significantly since the VCU Life Sciences Survey last asked about this issue 2005. In all, 42 percent of Americans say evolution conflicts with their religious beliefs; about the same portion (43 percent) say the theory of evolution is mostly compatible with their own religious beliefs. A majority (53 percent) considers the evidence on evolution to be widely accepted within the scientific community; 31 percent think many scientists have serious doubts about this.

Science in Everyday Life 

How much do citizens see science knowledge as relevant for daily living? About seven in 10 adults in the U.S. say they use scientific facts and principles in their everyday life a lot (29 percent) or some (40 percent); roughly three in 10 (31 percent) use scientific facts and principles not too much or not at all.

Stem cell research

 The landscape for stem cell research has changed over the past few years as new discoveries have made doing research with alternatives to embryonic stem cells more feasible. Public understanding about the different types of stem cells has dropped 10 points since December 2008; today 54 percent consider themselves very or somewhat clear about the differences between types of stem cells, down from 64 percent. Opinion about embryonic stem cell research is more positive than past years; 62 percent either strongly or somewhat favor embryonic stem cell research, up 5 percentage points since December 2008. This is the highest level of support since the first VCU Life Sciences Survey in 2001. And, 71 percent favor non-embryonic stem cell research, a figure that is about the same as it was in December 2008.

Therapeutic cloning. A majority of Americans favors cloning when it is limited to helping develop new treatments for disease. Fifty-five percent favor this kind of therapeutic cloning, 40 percent oppose it. Support for therapeutic cloning has been increasing in small increments since 2004.
The entire report with complete questions and detailed tables of results is available here.