Should Dems be Talking About Fracking?

September 2, 2020

Jamie Henn on Twitter (co-founder of

Let’s talk about the politics of fracking. 

The press has bought into (arguably created?) this narrative that if Dems say anything about regulating or banning fracking, it will kill them in places like PA. 

New polling out today & past experience shows otherwise. 

This whole “fracking will sink Dems” narrative has been around a while, but it was crystalized this January with this piece in the NYT and a painful Daily episode that made out fracking opponents as pot-smoking hippies (kid you not, just listen)

In Crucial Pennsylvania, Democrats Worry a Fracking Ban Could Sink ThemThe fracking ban pushed by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders  epitomizes a Democratic quandary: Appeal to swing voters or energize a liberal movement?

The story–and most “fracking will sink Dems” coverage–is in the “Hillbilly Elegy” tradition that colored a lot of 2016 election autopsies. 

And I mean colored: the genre depends on lifting up older, white, male voters as the “key demographic” Dems need to win. I’m not saying it isn’t a factor: there are certainly some white, male, union voters who have concerns about Biden and Dems stance on fracking. 

But are they the crucial votes for Dems to win in places like PA? 

Polling & experience suggests otherwise. New polling out today from GSG shows that a debate over fracking and clean energy in Pennsylvania actually *boosts* Joe Biden statewide. 

Yeah, that’s write: talking about fracking *helps* Democrats.

The numbers are actually pretty astounding. 

Voters who listen to a balanced debate over fracking end up supporting Biden by an additional 4 points. When you combine it with a discussion of climate, Biden goes up 7 points. 

Trump’s attacks just don’t work.


That’s because voters overwhelmingly support common sense regulations on fracking and investments in clean energy. 

74% of voters in PA support fracking regulations. The numbers are even higher in Philly, a key place Dems need to turn out.


Past experience backs this up. 

In local races across Pennsylvania, anti-fracking candidates are winning.


Conventional wisdom suggests that voters in swing states like Pennsylvania and Ohio are enthusiastic backers of fracking. This is simply not the case. A new poll from Franklin & Marshall of registered voters in Pennsylvania found 48% support a ban on fracking, while 39% oppose it. 

The same survey finds 49% of Pennsylvanians say that the negative environmental impacts of gas drilling are not worth the supposed economic benefits. That’s up from 33% just a few years ago. The same survey in 2018 found that 69 percent of state residents think Pennsylvania should prioritize renewable energy; just 18 percent wanted to prioritize coal and gas. 

A similar dynamic exists in Florida, the largest swing state with the most electoral votes up for grabs. While the poll cited above found that a fracking ban is overwhelmingly popular among Democrats, a third of Floridians who voted for Trump also support a ban.

Of course there is no firm evidence that a candidate’s position on fracking would be a dealbreaker for voters. But even the industry’s preferred argument — “fracking delivers jobs to hard-hit regions” — is undermined by the hundreds of jobs drilling companies have axed in Pennsylvania in recent months due to fracking’s plummeting profitability. 

There is a fly in this ointment. A lot of people are still dependent on gas for electricity and heat. A blanket ban on fracking that does not allow for some kind of ramp, as well as incentivizing a move toward heat-pumps as an alternative to gas heat, is likely to fail.


Andy Dessler reminds us that fracking is collapsing right in front of us if we can just get out of the way, and keep pushing more renewable replacement.

5 Responses to “Should Dems be Talking About Fracking?”

  1. David Tyler Says:

    I don’t think the Democrats should be scaring people with proposing bans on specific extraction practices without a comprehensive approach to the whole of fossil fuel usage issues. This is especially true at a time when the market seems to be effectively dealing with the curtailing this industry as it is with coal.

  2. garyhorvitz Says:

    The industry is effectively curtailing itself. Between an unsustainable business model and the falling costs of renewables, jobs in fracking are doomed–no less so than jobs in coal. Considering the known environmental damage, the secrecy, potentially long-term contaminations, etc., banning fracking is common-sense economic policy.

  3. doldrom Says:

    Very few people (even Republican voters) have been so captured that they sympathize with oil companies. They’ve been on a downward popularity slope since, well, since the beginning…

    That said, if I were a political strategist, I’d probably label fracking as an unlikely topic to garner support one way or the other.

  4. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    Fracking isn’t worth the campaign mindshare it would cost.
    [Exception for local elections in frack-land.]

  5. “Voters who listen to a balanced debate over fracking end up supporting Biden by an additional 4 points. …”

    There was a debate? Is it available on YouTube? Who were the debaters?

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