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Press Release · July 30, 2008

Californians Back Offshore Drilling by Slim Margin

Gas Prices Spur Change in Views, Behavior — But Residents Still Worry About Warming

SAN FRANCISCO, California, July 30, 2008 — Fifty-one percent of Californians favor more oil drilling off the coast – a 10-point increase since July 2007 – according to a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC). This is the first time since 2003, when PPIC first posed the question, that more Californians favor offshore drilling than oppose it (45%), a shift caused in large part by a surge in support among Republicans. It is also one of many reactions to soaring gas prices that the PPIC survey reveals. The survey was conducted with funding from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and is the eighth in a series about Californians and the environment.

As the national debate intensifies over how to respond to rising energy costs in a lagging economy, Californians report that they are changing their behavior. The number of workers who drive to work alone has dropped 11 points in five years (73% 2003, 62% 2008). Nearly seven in 10 residents (69%) report cutting back significantly on their driving, and nearly three in four (74%) are seriously considering a more fuel-efficient car the next time they buy a vehicle.

Worrying About Warming

Despite the pain at the pump, residents are concerned that global warming is a threat to California, which has the nation’s toughest goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Half of Californians (52%) say global warming is a very serious threat to the state’s economy and quality of life, and more than six in 10 (64%) say its effects have already begun, a 7-point increase from 2005. But here, too, a partisan divide exists, with nearly seven in 10 Democrats (67%) saying global warming is a very serious threat, compared to about half of independents (49%) and just one in four Republicans (25%). Similarly, 74 percent of Democrats say the effects of warming have already begun, compared to 64 percent of independents and just 41 percent of Republicans. Majorities of Californians say governments are not doing enough to address global warming at any level – federal (66%), state (51%), or local (52%). However, opinion is again divided along party lines, with less than half of Republicans saying that federal (43%), state (29%), or local (33%) governments are not doing enough about global warming.

The barrage of bad news about the economy has not dampened residents’ enthusiasm for taking immediate action against global warming. Eight in 10 (80%) believe steps should be taken right away, a percentage that has increased 7 points since 2003. Majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents express this view. Californians disagree with the notion that state leaders, who must fill a multibillion-dollar budget deficit, should wait to implement AB32, the 2006 law that set goals to slash greenhouse gas emissions. Nearly six in 10 (57%) say the state should take steps right away, while a little over a third (36%) say that government should wait until the economy and budget have improved.

“Tough economic times have not diminished the importance of environmental issues for Californians,” says Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of PPIC. “The environment is seen as a matter of health and well-being, and residents don’t want to cut corners there.”

“At the same time, Californians are living with the financial hardship of higher gas prices, and they’re changing their behavior. They’re driving less, which is an environmental win because auto emissions increase global warming. The issue for the state’s leaders is to transform Californians’ values and their day-to-day economic challenges into a policy that moves the state forward.”

Transit Routines Shift – Mainly For Younger, Poorer Commuters

Three in four Californians (76%) say that increases in gasoline prices have caused financial hardship in their households. A majority of workers (62%) report that they drive alone to work, but more workers are carpooling (17% today, 13% 2007). Since last year, about the same percentage of workers report walking, bicycling, or working at home (13% today, 12% 2007), or taking public transit (7% today, 2007), perhaps reflecting that these commuting choices are not available to all Californians.

Those who are richer and older are more likely to drive to work alone: An overwhelming percentage of residents with household incomes above $80,000 (70%) are solo commuters, compared to less than half (44%) of those with incomes under $40,000. While more than 68 percent of Californians between ages 35 and 54 drive to work alone, 52 percent of Californians between ages 18 and 34 do. Among Californians who drive to work alone, 31 percent own or lease an SUV and 6 percent own or lease a hybrid.

Where Should the Energy Come From? Political Views Vary

How should the nation meet its energy needs? The new support for offshore oil drilling (51% today, 41% 2007) has come from all adults — Republicans (77%, up from 60%), independents (44%, up from 33%), and Democrats (35%, up from 29%). Still, most Democrats (60%) and half of independents (50%) oppose more drilling.

Support for building more nuclear power plants has also increased. Four in 10 (44%) residents support it and half (50%) are opposed. The partisan divide is wide on this issue, with Republicans supporting it (66% in favor, 29% opposed), independents slightly in favor (51% in favor, 42% opposed), and Democrats opposed (60% opposed, 34% in favor).

But there is bipartisan support for alternative proposals to meet the nation’s energy needs. More than eight in 10 Californians (83%) support federal funding for research on renewable technologies, such as wind, solar, and hydrogen. Across political parties, more than three in four voters agree with this view.

Seven in 10 Californians say automakers should be required to significantly improve fuel efficiency in cars, even if this increases the cost of buying a car. This view also has strong backing across party lines, with support from 81 percent of independents, 80 percent of Democrats, and 68 percent of Republicans.

Top Worries: Air Pollution, Gas and Energy, Global Warming, Wildfires

Californians rank air pollution as the most important environmental issue facing the state. This issue has consistently ranked number one since PPIC began asking this open-ended question eight years ago. But air quality has dipped in importance, with 33 percent of residents listing it as the top issue in 2000, 29 percent in 2007, and 23 percent this year.

This decline comes as two other issues – energy costs and the state’s wildfires – have significantly increased in importance on Californians’ list of concerns. The percentage of residents who named gas prices as their top concern increased 11 points since last year (12% today, 1% 2007). The next most frequently named issues are energy and oil drilling (10% today, 6% 2007), global warming (10% today, 11% 2007), and wildfires and loss of forests (10% today, 4% 2007).

Although air quality is the most frequently named issue across the state’s regions and demographic groups, big differences arise when Californians are asked about the air they breathe. Seven in 10 residents statewide say air pollution is a big problem (34%) or somewhat of a problem (37%) in their region. But those in the Central Valley (51%) and Los Angeles (47%) are much more likely than residents in the Inland Empire (30%), San Francisco Bay Area (22%), and Orange/San Diego counties (19%) to say it is a big problem.

Fewer than one in four Californians are very satisfied (17%) with the air quality in their region, with residents in Los Angeles (10%), the Central Valley (12%), and the Inland Empire (14%) far less likely than those in the San Francisco Bay Area (20%) and Orange/San Diego counties (23%) to hold this view. Nearly one in three (31%) Central Valley residents are very dissatisfied with the air quality in their region.

There is a wide racial and ethnic divide in perceptions of regional air quality, with whites the most likely (23%) to be very satisfied, followed by Asians (16%), Latinos (11%), and blacks (7%).

Blacks, Latinos View Air Quality As Threat

Nearly six in 10 Californians (58%) say regional air pollution is at least somewhat of a serious health threat to themselves or their immediate families, a finding that has changed little since PPIC first asked the question in 2003. But here, too, there is a racial and ethnic divide, with blacks and Latinos (31% each) much more likely than whites (16%) or Asians (8%) to say air pollution is a very serious health threat.

Asked whether air pollution is a more serious health threat in lower-income areas, Californians overall are evenly divided (48% yes, 46% no). But Latinos are far more likely to hold this view (70%) than Asians (55%), blacks (48%), or whites (33%).

Clearing the Air: Strict Rules Get Strong Backing

Solid majorities of residents favor tougher regulations to combat regional air pollution, but far more favor stricter curbs on commercial and industrial activities (79%) or diesel-fueled vehicles like trucks or buses (80%) than on agriculture (58%). A bill in the legislature that is intended to ease air pollution and traffic congestion at California seaports by charging a container fee has the support of 61 percent of residents.

More Key Findings:

War on warming is worth waging, requires sacrifices– Page 15

Three in four Californians (75%) believe it is possible to reduce the effects of global warming, while 18 percent believe it isn’t. About half (51%) believe people will have to make major sacrifices to reduce global warming’s impact, while 17 percent say technology can do so without major sacrifices necessary.

California greening: Residents back state against feds – Page 17

Majorities of voters across parties say the state should continue to set its own policies on global warming, and they back the 2002 law – which has been the focus of a battle with the federal government – to reduce emissions from new cars beginning in 2009.

Schwarzenegger, Bush approval ratings down – Page 20

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s job approval rating (43% approve, 45% disapprove) is down 9 points since July 2007, but is about the same as in May of this year. His approval rating on handling the environment (46% approve, 36% disapprove) is similar to 2007. President Bush’s job approval rating (26% approve, 69% disapprove) continues to hover near the historic low recorded in March of this year (24% approve, 72% disapprove). Ratings of his handling of the environment are similar (24% approve, 66% disapprove).

Obama leads McCain, 50 percent to 35 percent – Page 21

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama has strong support among Democratic (79%) and independent (57%) likely voters. His lead is similar to the 17-point advantage he held over Sen. John McCain in May, when Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton was still a contender. Obama is the choice of men, women, and Latinos, while whites are divided (43% Obama, 41% McCain). McCain has strong support (72%) among Republicans. Regardless of who they support, likely voters trust Obama over McCain to handle environmental issues (52% to 28%) and energy policy (51% to 33%).


This is the eighth PPIC Statewide Survey on the environment since 2000. It was conducted with funding from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. It is based on a telephone survey of 2,504 adult residents interviewed in multiple languages, and reached by landline and on cell phones throughout the state. Interviews were conducted from July 8 to July 22, 2008. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2% and is larger for subgroups. For more information on methodology, see page 27.

Mark Baldassare is president and CEO of PPIC, where he holds the Arjay and Frances Fearing Miller Chair in Public Policy. He is founder of the PPIC Statewide Survey, which he has directed since 1998. This is the 88th PPIC Statewide Survey in a series that has generated a database that includes the responses of more than 187,000 Californians.

PPIC is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major economic, social, and political issues. The institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett. PPIC does not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor does it endorse, support, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office.