As the Deepwater Horizon disaster threatens Florida's shores, state voters are growing more opposed to offshore oil drilling and now are evenly divided about whether to amend the state Constitution to ban the practice, according to a new St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald/Bay News 9 poll.
The poll shows 44 percent of Florida voters support a constitutional ban and 44 percent oppose it, according to the Ipsos Public Affairs survey. The poll has a 4-percentage-point error margin.
But whether voters support or oppose such an amendment depends on where they live. Those who live closest to the oil drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico are more likely to favor a constitutional ban. Those who live inland, don't mind drilling as much.
Julia Clark, polling director for Ipsos Public Affairs, said it was a classic case of not-in-my-back-yard politics.
"It's nimby. It's not where I can see it or smell it and therefore doesn't affect me as much,'' she said. "It's human nature.''
It takes a 60 percent vote to approve a Constitutional amendment.
The telephone survey of 607 registered voters was conducted May 14-18 for the St. Petersburg Times, Miami Herald, Bay News 9 and Central Florida News 13. The poll was done by Ipsos Public Affairs, a Washington, D.C.-based independent, nonpartisan research company.
In the Tampa Bay area, 51 percent support a constitutional ban, while only 39 percent oppose it. In the Panhandle/North Florida region, 52 percent of voters favor a ban. Only 38 percent oppose. Voters are evenly split in South and Southwest Florida over the issue.
The only region that opposes the ban outright: Central Florida. There, 37 percent favor the idea of an amendment, while 51 percent oppose it.
Central Florida is the political base of future House Speaker Dean Cannon, a Winter Park Republican who chartered a $200,000 consultant study to explore oil drilling last session. He has joined other House leaders to put the kibosh on holding a special session to take up the idea of a constitutional ban, which was proposed by Gov. Charlie Crist.
The proposed ban, though, wouldn't affect rigs like Deepwater Horizon, which drilled in waters beyond the states' control.
Cannon, who pledged he won't try to push oil drilling as House speaker, declined to comment on the poll. Crist once favored oil drilling, but reversed himself after the Deepwater Horizon accident last month.
A majority of Floridians once favored drilling, with support reaching 61 percent in August 2008, according to a Mason-Dixon poll at the time. A Mason-Dixon poll this month showed that 55 percent of Florida voters were now opposed to drilling.
"Originally, I didn't have any views about it at all until this terrible disaster happened,'' said Rita Platman, a 74-year-old Democrat in Pasco County. "Obviously, the companies themselves can't be regulated to do the right thing.''
Marc Caputo can be reached at mcaputo@MiamiHerald.com