HBO comedian John Oliver’s recent skit about North Dakota’s oil boom had some egregious factual flaws, which I detailed here, but perhaps the most provocative part of his rant was his admonition to North Dakotans to “be angry.”
In fact, Oliver went so far as to buy a billboard outside of my hometown of Minot bearing that message (a billboard company is responding by running several billboards around the state poking fun at Oliver).
The thing about that, though, is why in the world should North Dakotans care what John Oliver thinks?
Perhaps North Dakota looks like an impending ecological disaster governed by oil industry puppets when you’re liberal comedian relying on the New York Times and other advocacy journalism organizations for your facts, but how about the opinion of people who, you know, actually live here?
By every measure, North Dakotans who actually live alongside the oil development happening here seem just fine with the status quo.
While North Dakota Democrats were quick to seize on Oliver’s “be angry” message – they’re already using it for fundraising – it seems clear based on every single measure available to us that North Dakotans simply do not buy what Oliver is trying to sell them.
We could look at election results, for one thing. The Republican status quo continues to dominate state government, winning one election after another. And while Democrats in the state would love to sow discontent with the status quo among voters in order to further their political goals, the only Democrat who has managed a successful statewide campaign since 2008 – Senator Heidi Heitkamp – espouses positions on fossil fuel energy policy that are almost indistinguishable from Republicans.
Heading into the 2016 elections the frontrunner to take over for Governor Jack Dalrymple, who was the target of much of Oliver’s scorn, is Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. Another Republican who already regulates oil and gas activity alongside Dalrymple on the Industrial Commission and isn’t likely to bring much of a shift in philosophy to that office.
Democrats, meanwhile, have yet to find anyone willing to run for the office.
Polling, too, tells us that North Dakotans are satisfied. A poll last year sponsored by the North Dakota Petroleum Council found that 73 percent of North Dakotans agree benefits of oil and gas development outweigh the risks and that 83 percent believe oil and gas production should increase or stay the same.
Of course, the fact that the oil industry sponsored that poll might put some off of it, so how about polling released by DFM Research earlier this year which found that 74 percent of North Dakotans feel the state is heading in the right direction? DFM is a firm that I’ve commissioned for polling in the past and has also worked for the North Dakota Democrat Party and Senator Heidi Heitkamp.
In 2013 a Gallup poll found that North Dakota was the happiest state in the nation. Heck just a few weeks ago Telos Associates – a firm owned by a former statewide Democrat candidate and the Democrat party’s former communications director – released poll results (see the bottom of the post) finding that 76 percent of North Dakotans feel the state is on the right track including 58 percent of Democrats. I remain skeptical of the provenance of the Telos polling, but to the extent that it was touted by left-wing interests in the state, I present it as another piece of data making my point.
Whether it’s an independent poll, an oil industry backed poll, or a partisan poll the consensus is clear: North Dakotans don’t really feel angry about how things are going in their state.
Which means that Oliver’s billboard is probably going to accomplish very little.