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Press Release · December 2, 2015

Californians’ Concern about Climate Change Stands Out—in U.S., World

Few Worry That State Actions To Curb Warming Threaten Jobs

SAN FRANCISCO, December 2, 2015—Californians are much more likely than adults nationwide to view global climate change as a very serious problem, according to a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), with funding from The James Irvine Foundation.

As Governor Jerry Brown and a California delegation attend the United Nations climate change conference in Paris, most Californians say global climate change is a very serious (57%) or somewhat serious problem (23%). Far fewer say it is not too serious (7%) or not a problem (11%). In a spring Pew Research Center survey, 45 percent of U.S. adults called the issue a very serious problem and 29 percent saw it as a somewhat serious problem (13% not too serious, 12% not a problem).

Californians also give high rankings to global climate change as a very serious problem compared to residents of the Group of Eight nations surveyed by Pew (56% France, 55% Germany, 55% Italy, 51% Canada, 45% Japan, 45% U.S., 41% United Kingdom, 33% Russia).

In previous PPIC surveys, Californians have consistently favored state efforts to address global warming. One explanation may be that they don’t think these actions will hurt the economy. Today, relatively few residents (19%) say that California’s efforts to reduce global warming will lead to job losses, while 45 percent say the state’s actions will lead to more jobs and 27 percent say there will be no effect on jobs.

“Californians are taking global climate change very seriously and seem to be unmoved by the arguments about the negative impact of state actions on jobs,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO.

There are stark partisan differences on these climate change questions. While 79 percent of California Democrats say global climate change is a very serious problem, fewer independents (55%) share this view and just 21 percent of Republicans agree. Indeed, 35 percent of Republicans say global climate change is not a problem. At least half of residents across regions say global climate change is a very serious problem. Across racial/ethnic groups, blacks (71%), Asians (66%), and Latinos (63%) are more likely than whites (51%) to say so.

On the jobs question, 58 percent of Democrats and 45 percent of independents say state actions to reduce global warming will lead to more jobs, and 39 percent of Republicans say the result will be fewer.

Half Favor New Ideas Over Experience in a Presidential Candidate

Climate change is one of the issues to come up in the ongoing presidential primary debates. When Californians are asked about the candidates for president, 46 percent of adults and 53 percent of likely voters say they are satisfied with their choices. Republicans (58%) are slightly more likely than Democrats (51%) to be satisfied. A majority of independents (53%) are not satisfied (41% are satisfied).

Which attributes are more important in a presidential candidate? Half of Californians (51%) say that new ideas and a different approach are more important, while 41 percent say that experience and a proven track record are more important. Likely voters are divided, with 46 percent choosing new ideas and 44 percent choosing experience. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that 57 percent of adults nationwide say new ideas and a different approach are more important while 36 percent prioritize experience and a proven track record. There are notable partisan differences: 61 percent of Republicans and 54 percent of independents prefer new ideas, while 52 percent of Democrats prefer experience.

Strong Job Approval Ratings for Brown, Obama

When asked to rate their elected leaders, 51 percent of adults and 54 percent of likely voters approve of Governor Brown’s job performance—similar to his rating after his reelection (54% adults, 57% likely voters in December 2014). The legislature’s approval rating is lower (41% adults, 38% likely voters).

President Obama’s job approval rating is 61 percent among all adults and 56 percent among likely voters. Congress fares far worse—26 percent among all adults and 14 percent among likely voters—in the survey, which was conducted after John Boehner resigned and Congressman Paul Ryan became Speaker of the House of Representatives.

“The high approval ratings of Governor Brown and President Obama set the tone for the 2016 election,” Baldassare said. “Many California likely voters are saying that in selecting a candidate, they value experience.”

When asked about upcoming congressional elections, Californians prefer that Congress be controlled by Democrats (52% adults, 49% likely voters) rather than by Republicans (32% adults, 36% likely voters).

Which party would do a better job handling key national issues? A majority of state residents (53%) say the Democrats would do a better job than the Republicans (31%) on health care. Californians also tend to think the Democrats would do a better job than Republicans on immigration (46% vs. 37%), the economy (45% vs. 41%), and the federal budget (44% vs. 38%).

Asked about their opinions of the major parties, 51 percent of adults have a favorable impression of the Democratic Party and 30 percent view the Republican Party favorably. Across racial/ethnic groups, half or more of Asians (52%), Latinos (64%), and blacks (69%) have a favorable impression of the Democratic Party, and solid majorities view the Republican Party unfavorably (61% Asians, 67% Latinos, 82% blacks). About half of whites have an unfavorable impression of both the Democratic (50%) and Republican (54%) parties. And 24 percent of residents view the Tea Party movement favorably.

Water, Drought Is Top Concern—But Jobs, Economy a Close Second

As the state heads into an election year, Californians are most likely to name water and drought (27%) as the most important issue facing the state, followed closely by jobs and the economy (24%). State residents are less likely today to mention water and drought than they were in September (32%) and more likely to mention jobs and the economy (20%). Across regions, Orange/San Diego residents (34%) are the most likely to mention water and the drought, while Los Angeles residents are the most likely to mention jobs and the economy (29%). San Francisco Bay Area residents (16%) are the most likely to mention housing. Statewide, fewer than 10 percent of adults name any other issue.

“The issue of water and the drought seems to have peaked for the time being,” Baldassare said. “Concerns about the economy and housing costs are resurfacing.”

Half of residents (51%) and fewer likely voters (44%) say the state is generally going in the right direction. Asked for their views about the state’s economic direction, 48 percent of adults and 47 percent of likely voters say California will experience good economic times in the next 12 months.

Half Favor Health Reform, Slim Majority Would Cover the Undocumented

The presidential race has also drawn attention to the issues of income inequality, health care reform, and immigration. The survey touches on these issues:

  • Income inequality. Most Californians (67%) say the state is divided into two economic groups, the haves and have-nots. Majorities across income groups, regions, age, education, and racial/ethnic groups hold this view. Asked to choose which of the two groups they are in, 40 percent of adults say they are in the haves and 44 percent say they are in the have-nots. About half of adults (51%) say the government should do more to make sure that all Californians have an equal opportunity to get ahead and 42 percent say that all Californians have an equal opportunity.
  • Health care reform. Half of Californians (51%) have a generally favorable opinion of the health reform law, the Affordable Care Act, while 42 percent view it unfavorably. Adults nationwide are more divided (42% favorable, 42% unfavorable), according to an October Kaiser Family Foundation survey.
  • Health care and undocumented immigrants. With California poised to extend health care coverage to some undocumented immigrant children, the PPIC survey asks about extending it to undocumented residents. A slim majority of Californians (54%) are in favor, while 42 percent are opposed. The findings are reversed for likely voters: 42 percent are in favor and 55 percent are opposed.

Few Say Legalizing Marijuana Is Important

Most residents (65% adults, 62% likely voters) are satisfied with the way the initiative process is working. However, most (60% adults, 61% likely voters) agree that, in general, there are too many propositions on the state ballot. And more than half (55% adults, 66% likely voters) say special interests have a lot of control over the initiative process in the state. The survey asks about the importance of four potential ballot measures:

  • State bonds funding K–12 schools and community college facilities. Majorities (63% adults, 55% likely voters) view this as very important.
  • Increasing the state minimum wage. Most adults (57%) and about half of likely voters (49%) consider this very important.
  • Extending the Proposition 30 tax increases. Less than half of Californians (36% adults, 37% likely voters) say this is very important. In response to a separate question, 54 percent of adults and likely voters say they favor extending the tax increases.
  • Legalizing marijuana in California. Less than a third of residents (28% adults, 30% likely voters) consider this a very important issue. A plurality (32%) say it is not at all important.

Reforms Could Lead to Increased Voter Turnout

Record-low voter turnout in the 2014 elections prompted renewed discussion of reforms to increase participation. A new law will provide automatic voter registration via the Department of Motor Vehicles. The survey finds that 71 percent of citizens who are not registered to vote say they are either very likely or somewhat likely to vote if they are automatically registered when using the DMV.

Under a proposed reform, each registered voter would automatically receive a mail ballot, which could be turned in by mail or in person. An overwhelming majority of registered voters who do not always vote (88%) say they are very or somewhat likely to vote if they automatically receive a ballot. Asked about the importance of their vote, 75 percent Californians agree with the statement that “voting gives people like me some say in what the government does.” Majorities across parties, age, education, and income groups agree. Among racial/ethnic groups, blacks (37%) are most likely to disagree with the statement.


The PPIC Statewide Survey was conducted with funding from The James Irvine Foundation. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 1,703 California adult residents interviewed on landlines and cell phones from November 8–17, 2015. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish, according to respondents’ preferences.

The sampling error, taking design effects from weighting into consideration, is ±3.7 percent for all adults, ±4.0 percent for the 1,409 registered voters, and ±4.4 percent for the 1,115 likely voters. For more information on methodology, see page 23.

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.

PPIC is 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.