Across the region, 57 percent of those surveyed said they oppose mountaintop removal, with 42 percent saying they strongly oppose the practice. Sixty-four percent of Democrats said they opposed mountaintop removal, compared to 60 percent of independents and 51 percent of Republicans.
Coal companies and coal mining in general received favorable reviews in the survey. For example, 87 percent of those surveyed in West Virginia said they had a favorable view of coal mining.
Regionwide, 26 percent of those surveyed said they had a favorable view of strip mining and 20 percent a favorable view of mountaintop removal.
Favorable views of both were higher in West Virginia, 44 percent for strip mining and 31 percent for mountaintop removal.
And the survey showed less opposition to mountaintop removal in West Virginia than was found in a 2004 poll, when measured by a basic question without any explanation of what mountaintop removal is. The 2004 survey found 56 percent of West Virginians opposed the practice, compared to 42 percent opposed in the new survey.
Pollsters said the coal industry's massive public-relations campaign in favor of mountaintop removal might have played some role in those numbers, but they also said responses to more-detailed questions showed that opposition is significant and intense among the region's voting population.
Both the 2004 and the 2011 polls asked those surveyed if they support or oppose mountaintop removal, defining the practice as when "the top of a mountain is removed to extract the coal and waste is disposed in nearby valleys and streams."
In 2004, 58 percent of West Virginias responded that they were opposed, with 41 percent saying they were strongly opposed. In this year's survey, 54 percent of West Virginians said they were opposed, with 45 percent saying they were strongly opposed.
"If there has been any attrition [in the opposition numbers], it's really only in the undefined ask of the question," said Daniel Gotoff, a partner at Lake Research.
"So if proponents of mountaintop removal coal mining have had any success, and I think that's a question still, but if they've had any success in making the term less toxic or radioactive, that success is pretty ephemeral. As soon as you provide even the simplest definition, you end up with majority opposition in the state of West Virginia."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.