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Blog Post · July 12, 2023

Californians Like Voting on Environmental Issues

photo - Drought Landscape, Green Fields, and Ocean Triptych

Californians now include “extreme weather events” on a worry list with other environmental concerns—including droughts, heat waves, sea level rise, and wildfires—that most view as the byproducts of climate change, according to the July PPIC survey. They value the ability to vote on environmental issues—and are so far unsupportive of a referendum on new oil wells that will appear on next year’s ballot. Moreover, they believe that more should be done to include the public in policymaking.

Eight in ten likely voters say that it is a “good thing” that a majority of voters can make laws and change public policies about environmental issues by passing ballot measures. At a time of deep political polarization, overwhelming majorities across partisan groups (80% Democrats, 77% Republicans, 84% independents) agree that this is a good thing. More than seven in ten across age, education, gender, income, and racial/ethnic groups—and the state’s regions—hold this view. We found similar results in a 2022 PPIC survey that asked about voting on environmental issues through the citizens’ initiative process.

Moreover, likely voters want to be active participants—and not just spectators—when it comes to environmental policymaking. When asked how important it is to them personally to vote on ballot measures that will make laws and change public policies about environmental issues in California, 77% of likely voters say that it is “very important” (19% somewhat, 4% not too important).

Once again, overwhelming majorities across political parties hold this view (78% Democrats, 73% Republicans, 80% independents). Seven in ten or more across regions and age, education, gender, income, and racial/ethnic groups agree.

And voters will be getting their wish to vote on environmental issues next year. A referendum challenging the 2022 law prohibiting new oil and gas wells near homes, schools, and hospitals will be on the November 2024 ballot. In an early read, 64% of likely voters would vote yes to approve the law and 36% would vote no to reject it.

Majorities of Democrats (71%) and independents (60%), and 50% of Republicans would vote yes. Majorities across age, education, gender, income, and racial/ethnic groups, and state regions, would also vote yes. Proponents currently fall well short of a majority no vote to reject this law. But there is time and money for both sides to make their case.

Interestingly, another 2024 referendum is failing to gain traction with voters so far, according to our June survey. This referendum challenges the 2022 law authorizing the creation of a council to set minimum wage and working standards for fast-food workers—and it is also falling short of a majority no vote (56% yes to approve it, 40% no to reject). This raises the intriguing possibility that voters will reject two business-sponsored referendums on environmental and labor issues.

At least one environmental bond may also be on the ballot next year. The legislature is considering asking voters to approve a multi-billion-dollar state bond measure for climate change programs. We asked about voters’ support for a proposed $6 billion bond measure (SB 638); several other state bond measures are also under consideration (AB 305, AB 1567, and SB 867).

If the election were held today, 65% of likely voters would vote yes and 34% would vote no on a state bond measure to pay for climate and resiliency projects. Majorities would vote yes across regions and age, education, gender, income, and racial/ethnic groups. Partisans are deeply divided (83% Democrats, 32% Republicans, 67% independents).

The July survey findings point to other ways that the public would like to increase citizen engagement in environmental policymaking. Sixty-eight percent are in favor of having a citizens’ assembly on environmental issues facing the state.

How would this work? Following the playbook in Europe, about 100 citizens would be chosen randomly and invited by state government officials to represent the public. After hearing from experts, reviewing materials, and deliberating as a group, they would make recommendations to the governor and legislature on laws and ballot measures on environmental issues in California. Remarkably, there is solid majority support for this idea across partisan and demographic groups as well as state regions.

Furthermore, 64% of likely voters are in favor of a citizens' initiative review commission. Following the model in Oregon, a representative group of about 24 citizens would be randomly chosen and invited by state government officials to participate. After several public meetings, they would choose the ballot initiatives to review, holding public hearings with campaign spokespersons and policy experts, deliberating pros and cons, and making ballot recommendations in the secretary of state's voter information guide. This majority support is consistent with earlier PPIC surveys, which tied these favorable views to widespread perceptions that ballot initiative can be confusing.

Our findings today are consistent with Californians’ pro-environmental stances in past polling and elections. Surprisingly, no citizens’ initiatives on environmental issues have qualified for the 2024 election—even as we face what former California Governor Jerry Brown has called “the existential threat of climate change.”

Is there the political will for state leaders to call a citizens’ assembly to make recommendations to the governor and legislature for upcoming ballot measures? Californians are being asked to make significant changes in their lifestyles as the climate changes, and their buy-in will be critical for the state’s future.


2024 Election climate change extreme weather initiatives Political Landscape Statewide Survey voters