Tuesday, October 17, 2006

New Dittman Poll Shows Persistent Misconceptions About Alaska By "Outsiders"

Yesterday (October 16th, 2006), Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski released to the Associated Press the results of a Dittman poll commissioned by the adminstration and taken back in May of this year to determine how Outsiders perceived Alaska. Fifteen hundred people responded, with a margin of error of 2.6%. While the AP did not release the raw results, they released enough so that several media outlets, to include the Anchorage Daily News, were able to publish a story about the most significant findings. Pictured above left, Yanerth Glacier in the Alaska Range, courtesy of Martin Truffer's website.

In general, the results of the poll show that while Americans tend to be favorably disposed towards Alaska, they don't know a whole lot about it. Here are some of the findings:

- More than half the nation thinks most of Alaska is covered in ice and snow year round.
- One out of every eight Americans believes the Last Frontier is a separate country or else doesn't know that it's a state.
- Just 14 percent of those polled had ever been to Alaska, but nine out of every 10 said they had a positive impression of the state. Most cited its natural beauty and vast space.

The nation holds a romantic notion of Alaskans. Most described the people who live here as adventurous, rugged pioneers who like their freedom and the wilderness. "There is still a mystique associated with Alaska. A lot of it has to do with the misperceptions," said Anchorage pollster Dave Dittman, whose firm conducted the poll. "If they knew more about what the reality was, it would probably be better for us."

- Three out of every hundred people polled had a negative perception of the state's residents, calling them "greedy," "strange," "suspicious" or "depressed."
- The first words that come to mind when asked about Alaska tend to be "cold, "snow" and "ice," according to the poll results. Five percent of Alaska is covered by glaciers, ice and snow, but 60 percent of those polled guessed that half to nearly all of the state is a frozen wasteland all year.

Although Alaska became a state in 1959,
- Five percent of those polled believe Alaska is still a territory.
- Four percent said Alaska is a separate country
- Two percent said it is a commonwealth.
- One in every hundred said they did not know what Alaska's status is.

- More than one-third of respondents correctly identified Alaska's size as being about one-fifth the size of the contiguous 48 states.
- Respondent were all over the map in guessing Alaska's population. As many people put the population under 250,000 as did those who said it was up to 2 million.
- Twenty-five percent of respondents said they didn't know. The actual number is 665,000, which 15 percent got right.
- When asked to make a choice between developing Alaska's energy resources or protecting the state's environment, 59 percent chose protecting the environment. Thirty-seven percent said developing the resources.
- At the same time, slightly more than half the people polled said ANWR should be opened for oil and gas exploration and 42 percent were against it.
- A majority of the nation believes most Alaskans are opposed to opening ANWR, according to the poll, when in fact the opposite is true.

"The most important misperception is that Alaskans are opposed to ANWR," Dittman said. "They think they are defending us."

The respondents included nearly equal numbers of people who call themselves Republicans, Democrats or independents. They were split by region: 21 percent were from the Northeast, 21 percent the Midwest, 35 percent the South and 23 percent the West.

The poll was followed up by a series of focus groups in different parts of the country, in which "opinion leaders" -- defined as influential people ranging from newspaper letter writers to political activists -- were used to elaborate on the responses, Dittman said.

The poll was commissioned by Gov. Frank Murkowski amid fears that two congressional debates last year had muddied Alaska's image: Whether federal earmarks should go to build two "bridges to nowhere" and the failed effort to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling. "I think we were concerned after the big debate over earmarks ... that Alaskans would be tarred with a pretty black brush," Murkowski spokesman John Manly said. "It turned out that people in the rest of the country have a pretty positive view of Alaska." Arizona Senator John McCain has been particularly vitriolic in his criticism of Alaska's senior Senator, Ted Stevens.

Governor Murkowski said he and the state's congressional delegation wanted to use the results for a marketing campaign to boost the state's image and open ANWR. But voters tossed Murkowski out in the August 22nd primary, and the governor has no plans to enter the next phase of the project.

• ONLINE: Visit adn.com to post your thoughts on the Lower 48's view of Alaska, based on results from the poll.

Analysis: One of the biggest disconnects is in opinion regarding opening up ANWR for exploration and responsible development. I don't believe those who oppose it do so for malicious reasons, but simply due to misinformation.

Let me make this plain to those of you who live in the Lower 48: You do NOT help us or represent us when you oppose ANWR. An ongoing Dittman poll, taken at regular intervals since 1990, and most recently updated on September 6th, 2006, consistently shows that approximately 70% of Alaskans support opening ANWR. Every Republican elected official AND nearly all Democratic elected officials support opening ANWR. You've given us your best arguments against ANWR for 20 years - you have not convinced us, you can not convince us, and you will not convince us that opening ANWR is a mistake. Since we Alaskans live here and you don't, you would be smart to defer a bit more to our local expertise.

And opening ANWR will not result in an apocalyptic scene of a "forest of oil derricks". Only 10% of the reserve, at a maximum, is to be considered. Updated technology minimizes intrusion; we can now use offset or directional drilling, meaning one derrick services multiple underground wells. The "footprint", or the area covered by a typical installation, is much smaller now than it was 30 years ago due to similar technological advances. The concern about spills is understandable, but BP's recent problems were caused by complacence, inadequate oversight and lack of scheduled and timely preventive maintenance. Congress is working to correct this issue legislatively - Senator Lisa Murkowski is taking the lead.

Those who are concerned about ANWR promoting continued overdependence on fossil fuels could better apply their activist instincts towards convincing Congress and the Bush Administration to spend less money on foreign adventurism and redirect the funds towards jump-starting research and initial production of alternative energy sources such as geothermal and wind. Geothermal energy now provides a significant percentage of power requirements for the Chena Hot Springs resort here in Alaska. However, jump-starting these efforts requires a massive initial outlay of capital that only the Federal government is in the best position to provide. It is more important for America to become energy-independent than it is to convert the entire known universe to carbon-copy, cookie-cutter Amerikwan-style democracy with fire and with sword.

Finally, more of us Alaskans need to take to the blogosphere to help get the message out. Approximately 10% of Americans read blogs; this is an informational environment absolutely begging for further exploitation. Since its inception in February 2006, Alaska Pride has sought not only to educate Alaskans on Outside issues which can or do affect Alaska, but also to educate Outsiders on the real Alaska. There are others which do likewise, but we need more. Information is the best antidote to ignorance.

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