Southern Illinois is the next region threatened by a looming fracking boom. A new poll by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute shows surprising levels of opposition to fracking among southern Illinois residents. Despite using the cliche, false choice narrative of "jobs v. the environment," poll respondendents were evenly split on whether fracking should be encouraged.
Surprisingly, moderates and independents are more opposed to fracking than either Democrats or Republicans. Among moderates, 47.4% believe the state should not encourage fracking while 33.0% believe we should. Independents are against fracking by an even wider margin with 53.7% against and 28.2% for.
As someone who has worked on coal issues in southern Illinois, I'm surprised to see the region so divided over another fossil fuel extraction industry. A minority know how the coal industry is a drain on both the regional economy and environment. The Simon Institute poll has a whoping 80.9% with a favorable or very favorable opinion of the coal industry. That level of support doesn't extend to fracking, despite almost universal support from local state legislators and news outlets.
Some of Illinois' conservative political establishment still hold to the outdated view that the environment is a special interest for hippie tree-huggers. This poll gives a reality check that fracking is a wedge issue which could be exploited by candidates in either major party. People react when you threaten their water supply and the places they love, no matter what their party affiliation.
Many state legislators voted for the fracking regulatory bill earlier this year believing it was a consensus issue. Lobbyists from industry groups and a few statehouse green groups agreed to a regulatory bill that allowed fracking to move forward. This poll shows that the few Chicago-headquartered environmental groups which advocated for the fracking bill didn't represent the views of many southern Illinoisans, much less environmentalists in the region who demand a moratorium. State legislators may find that their vote to launch the fracking assault will be more controversial among swing voters than they were lead to believe.