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Blog Post · August 10, 2016

Climate Change and Partisanship

Ten years ago, California led the nation in climate change policy when it passed the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, landmark legislation that required the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. While passed largely along partisan lines, Assembly Bill (AB) 32 was signed into law by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Notably, the law enjoyed the support of a strong majority of Californians—including two in three adults across parties—in our July 2006 Statewide Survey.

Today, the state is prepared to meet the reduction targets set forth in AB 32. As policymakers debate how to further reduce emissions, a strong majority of Californians continue to favor these targets. But now there is a wide partisan divide. An overwhelming majority of Democrats (80%) are in favor, compared to a majority of independents (56%) and fewer than half of Republicans (44%).

The evolving partisanship can also been seen in Californians’ views about the state’s role as a leader in global warming policy. In 2006, solid majorities of Californians across parties were in favor of California making its own global warming policies separate from the federal government. Today, a solid majority of adults are still in favor, but the partisan divide has widened. Democratic support has held steady (73% in 2006, 70% today), but support among Republicans (62% in 2006, 49% today) and independents (70% in 2006, 55% today) has declined by double digits.

What’s changed since 2006? In California, Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has been replaced by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, who has been a vocal leader on climate change and made the issue a major component of his agenda. At the national level, there is a contentious debate about global warming, as well as a growing partisan and ideological divide.

Democrats and Republicans in our surveys have also become more ideologically divided. Democrats describing themselves as “very liberal” made up 14% of Democrats in our July 2006 survey, while that group encompasses 30% of Democrats today. Similarly, Republicans describing themselves as “very conservative” made up 21% of Republicans in July 2006. The “very conservative” constitute 31% of Republicans today.

Despite a widening partisan divide, Californians’ support for state policies to address global warming has been consistent in the 10 years since passing AB 32. Indeed, a strong majority of Californians (68%) favor a proposal to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40% of 1990 levels by 2030. An overwhelming majority of Democrats (78%) support the proposed goals, compared to fewer than half of Republicans (39%). Independents are in the middle, with 59% in favor of the expanded goals.

Does the partisan divide on global warming policy mean that there is intraparty cohesiveness? Not necessarily. Among Democrats, there is strong majority support regardless of ideology and other demographics. But Republicans as a group are less cohesive. In fact, support for further reducing greenhouse gases exceeds 50 percent among nonwhite Republicans. Among independents, support for global warming policy mirrors that of the party that these nonpartisans lean toward.

Further reducing greenhouse gas emissions will be a real test for California as it seeks to address climate change. The ongoing political debate over global warming may well continue, and once more, the nation will be watching to see what California does next.


AB 32 climate change partisan divide Political Landscape Statewide Survey