PPIC Survey Finds Californians’s Support for Policies to Curb Warming Slips With Economy and Budget Crisis; Partisan Split Widens
Solid majorities of Californians favor state policies to curb global warming, according to a survey by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) with support from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. But in a year that has seen both a worsening recession and state budget crisis, residents’ support for urgent action on climate change has slipped and a partisan divide on the issue has widened.
Most residents (66%) support the 2006 California law (AB 32) that requires greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced to 1990 levels by 2020. Support has declined 7 points from July 2008 (73%) and 12 points from 2007 (78%). The decline is sharpest among Republicans (57% 2008, 43% today). However, Californians across party lines favor the requirement that automakers reduce emissions from new cars (90% Democrats, 81% independents, 55% Republicans).
While most see global warming as a threat (47% very serious, 28% somewhat serious) to the economy and quality of life in the state, the percentage of residents who categorize the threat as very serious has declined over the past two years (54% 2007, 52% 2008, 47% today.) Residents are divided over whether the state government should take action to reduce emissions right away (48%) or wait until the economy and state budget situation improve (46%). In July 2008, when the plan to implement AB 32 was being discussed, a majority (57%) said the government should adopt it right away rather than wait (36%).
Californians clearly support policies to improve the environment. But in the current economic climate their support has dropped a notch.—Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of PPIC
The survey finds partisan divisions on a number of questions related to climate change:
Effects of global warming: Californians are nearly as likely today (61%) as they were last year (64%) to say the effects of global warming are already occurring, and they are more likely to say so than adults nationwide (53%), according to a March Gallup poll. Across parties today, solid majorities of Democrats (76%) and independents (61%) agree, compared to just 36% of Republicans. And one in three Republicans (34%) say global warming will never happen, an increase of 10 points since last year (24%).
Belief that government should regulate emissions: While 76% of residents and majorities across party lines think the government should regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, cars, and factories, Democrats (86%), and independents (79%) are far more likely to think so than Republicans (54%).
A cap and trade system: While a plurality of Californians (49% support, 40% oppose) support a cap and trade program to curb emissions, there is a sharp partisan split over the idea of buying and selling emissions permits: 57% of Democrats favor it and 55% of Republicans oppose it. Independents are divided (47% support, 44% oppose).
Carbon tax: Californians are more in favor (56% support, 35% oppose) of taxing companies for their emissions but are sharply divided along party lines on this issue as well, with 73% of Democrats in favor and 60% of Republicans opposed.
Californians across party lines also support proposals that utilities be required to increase use of renewable energy sources (91% Democrats, 85% independents, 71% Republicans), buildings be required to be more energy efficient (86% Democrats, 77% independents, 63% Republicans), industrial and commercial facilities be required to reduce emissions (91% Democrats, 81% independents, 63% Republicans), and local governments change land use and transportation planning so that people can drive less (87% Democrats, 79% independents, 62% Republicans).
Energy sources and automobile efficiency. For only the second time since PPIC began asking the question in 2003, more Californians support expanding oil drilling off the coast than oppose it (51% favor, 43% oppose), the same as last year (51% favor, 45% oppose).
On the question of building more nuclear power plants, Californians are divided (46% favor, 48% oppose), as they were last year (44% favor, 50% oppose).
There is considerably more support for addressing the country’s energy needs and reducing dependence on foreign oil in other ways. An overwhelming majority (82% favor, 16% oppose) say automakers should be required to improve fuel efficiency, and support is nearly as high (79% favor, 18% oppose) for increasing federal funding to develop wind, solar, and hydrogen energy technology.
Air quality. Californians’ views about air quality have seen a significant shift. Twenty-three percent describe regional air pollution as a big problem, an 11-point drop since last year (34%) and the smallest percentage since PPIC began asking the question in June 2000. Today, residents in the Central Valley (36%), Los Angeles (30%) and Inland Empire (27%) are more likely to characterize air pollution as a big problem. This is a drop of 17 points in Los Angeles and 15 points in the Central Valley from last year. Among racial/ethnic groups, the percentage of Latinos who say air pollution is a big problem is down 15 points (30% today, 45% 2008).
About one in four Californians (24%) are very satisfied with the air quality in their region today, a 7-point increase from last year and a new high since PPIC first asked the question in 2006.
However, 42% of residents say they or an immediate family member suffers from asthma or respiratory problems, similar to last year and 5 points higher than in July 2003 (37%). Central Valley residents (51%) are the most likely to say this, followed by those in the Inland Empire (44%), Orange/San Diego Counties (42%), Los Angeles (40%), and the San Francisco Bay Area (40%).
Among blacks, 61% say they or a household member has one of these health conditions, compared to less than half of Latinos (46%), Asians (41%), or whites (40%). Californians are divided on whether they think air pollution is a more serious health threat in lower-income areas than other areas in their region (48% yes, 46% no).
Residents are still supportive of toughening air pollution standards in four areas:
- Diesel engine vehicles, such as truck and buses (76% yes, 21% no)
- Commercial and industrial activities (75% yes, 21% no)
- New passenger vehicles, such as cars, trucks, and SUVs (71% yes, 26% no)
- Agriculture and farm activities (56% yes, 36% no)
Other key findings include:
- Wildfire and drought worries lead the list of concerns about warming. Asked about specific possible effects of global warming, Californians are most likely to express concerns about wildfires (59%) and droughts (55%).
- Last year, 66% of Californians said the federal government was not doing enough to address global warming, compared to 48% today. Opinions of state and local government action to address warming have changed less dramatically.
- Californians (69%) are less likely than last year (76%) to report that gas prices are a financial hardship. But large majorities of some groups do, particularly Latinos (85%) and residents with annual household incomes under $40,000 (83%). And although the percentage of Californians who drive to work alone has declined 12 points since 2002, commuting patterns among employed Californians (63% drive alone, 16% carpool, 9% take public transit) are similar to last year.
- Three in four residents (77%) say the state should focus transportation planning dollars on expanding public transit and using the existing network more efficiently, up 10 points since August 2004 (67%). Just 18% say the state should focus on building freeways and highways. Regarding future water needs, half (50%) prefer that the state focus on conservation and efficient use of the current supply, while 43% favor building storage systems and increasing the water supply.
- Air pollution and vehicle emissions still top the list when Californians are asked to name the most important environmental issue, as they have in the past (20% today, 23% 2008). But 18% name water supply and drought as most important issue, up 13 points from last year.
This was the 100th PPIC Statewide Survey, a series that has generated a database of the responses of more than 214,000 Californians. It is the ninth survey on the environment since 2000 and is part of an annual series conducted with funding from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The survey is intended to inform policymakers and encourage discussion about environmental issues.
Findings are based on a telephone survey of 2,501 California adult residents reached by landline and cell phones throughout the state. Interviews took place from 7–21 July 2009, and were conducted in English, Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin or Cantonese), Vietnamese, and Korean. The sampling error for all adults is ±2 percent. For subgroups it is larger.
PPIC Statewide survey: Californians and the Environment