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Press Release · March 25, 2015

Californians Say Their Neighbors Aren’t Doing Enough About Drought

Few Support Raising Gas Tax, Slim Majority Favor Legalizing Marijuana

SAN FRANCISCO, March 25, 2015—Large majorities of Californians say the supply of water in their part of the state is a big problem and that people in their regions are not doing enough to respond to the drought, according to a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) with funding from The James Irvine Foundation.

Two-thirds of adults (66%) say the regional water supply is a big problem, near the record high reached last October (68%) on this question. Another 19 percent say it is somewhat of a problem (14% not much of a problem). Central Valley residents are the most likely to see the water supply as a big problem (76%), followed by Orange/San Diego (71%), the San Francisco Bay Area (63%), Los Angeles (60%), and the Inland Empire (56%). Asked about the water supply in their area 10 years from now, 69 percent expect it to be somewhat inadequate (26%) or very inadequate (43%) for what is needed. The share of residents saying the supply will be very inadequate has increased 12 points since last March.

Two-thirds of Californians (66%) say people in their part of the state are not doing enough to respond to the drought (24% right amount, 6% too much). Majorities across regions, parties, and racial/ethnic, education, and income groups say not enough is being done.

What is the most important issue facing people in California today? Residents are equally likely to name water and the drought (23%) as jobs and the economy (24%). They are much less likely to name other issues (education and schools 6%, immigration 6%, crime 5%).

“The ongoing drought is raising concerns about the long-term water supply,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “Most Californians think their neighbors could be doing more to save water today.”

Opposed To Paying More For Road Maintenance, Divided On High-Speed Rail

Governor Jerry Brown emphasized the maintenance of the state’s roads and infrastructure in his inaugural address. How do Californians view the condition of roads, highways and bridges? About a third (34%) say it is a big problem in their part of the state, another third (33%) say it’s somewhat of a problem, and a third (32%) say it is not much of a problem. Majorities of Californians (53% adults, 58% likely voters) say spending more money to maintain state roads, highways, and bridges is very important for the future quality of life and economic vitality of California. But when asked about three ways to increase state funding for this purpose, most Californians did not favor any of them. Just 18 percent favor increasing the state’s gas tax, 23 percent favor increasing the vehicle registration fee, and 47 percent favor issuing bonds paid for through the state’s general fund.

“Californians agree with the governor that highway, road, and bridge maintenance is important to the state’s future,” Baldassare said. “But they are reluctant to invest their money in state infrastructure projects.”

The survey asks about another transportation issue, high-speed rail. When read a brief description of the project and its associated costs, residents are divided: 47 percent favor it and 48 percent are opposed. Support for high-speed rail has hovered around 50 percent in recent years. When those who oppose it are asked how they would feel if it cost less, support increases to 64 percent. Just 28 percent say high-speed rail is very important for the future quality of life and economic vitality of California—down from previous years (33% March 2012, 36% March 2013, 35% March 2014).

Half Support Extending Proposition 30—Temporarily

The share of Californians saying the budget is a big problem is 45 percent—the lowest since May 2007. The survey asks about extending the temporary Proposition 30 tax increases that have helped improve the budget picture. About half of Californians (51%) and likely voters (48%) favor extending these increases in sales taxes and the income taxes of high earners, which are set to fully expire in 2018. But when those who favor extending the taxes are asked about making them permanent, support drops from 51 percent to 35 percent among all adults, and from 48 percent to 32 percent among likely voters. Regardless of their opinions on the issue, 66 percent of adults and 68 percent of likely voters say state voters should decide whether to extend the tax increases.

Half Favor More Higher Education Funding—If Fees Don’t Rise

With a budget surplus projected over the next several years, the survey asks whether Californians prefer spending it to pay down debt and build a reserve or restore some funding for public colleges and universities. Most adults (56%) choose restoring higher education funding. Likely voters are divided (48% pay down debt, 47% higher education funding).

The governor has proposed increasing funding for California’s public colleges and universities if they freeze tuition and fees for the next four years. When asked their views, 48 percent of adults and 52 percent of likely voters say state funding should be increased only if tuition and fees are not increased. Fewer (28% adults, 27% likely voters) say the state should not increase funding or that funding should be increased even if tuition and fees go up (19% adults, 18% likely voters).

Record-High Support for Legalizing Marijuana

As advocates for legalizing marijuana again consider putting the issue on the ballot, support for legalization is at its highest point since PPIC began asking this question in May 2010. Today, 53 percent of residents say marijuana should be legal and 45 percent say it should not. Slim majorities supported legalization in October 2014 (51%) and September 2013 (52%). Among likely voters, 55 percent favor legalization. About three-quarters of adults (74%) who have tried marijuana say it should be legal, while only a third (35%) who have never tried it favor legalization. Residents aged 18 to 34 (61%) are more likely than older adults to say marijuana use should be legal (47% age 35 to 54, 52% age 55 and older). Most adults without children under 18 (59%) favor legalization. Most parents with children (54%) are opposed.

If marijuana were legal, 53 percent of adults say it would not bother them if a store or business selling it opened up in their neighborhood, while 44 percent say it would. Most parents (54%) would be bothered.

Brown, Obama Have 55 Percent Approval

The governor’s job approval rating is 55 percent among adults (28% disapprove, 17% don’t know) and 56 percent among likely voters (36% disapprove, 8% don’t know). This is down from his record high in January (61% adults, 58% likely voters) but higher than his rating a year ago (49% adults, 52% likely voters in March 2014). The legislature’s approval rating has also dipped since January. Today it is 45 percent among adults and 39 percent among likely voters (49% adults, 41% likely voters in January).

President Obama’s approval rating among adults matches the governor’s, at 55 percent, but disapproval of his job performance is higher (41%, 4% don’t know). Likely voters are divided (49% approve, 48% disapprove). Californians continue to disapprove of the U.S. Congress’ job performance. Just 24 percent of adults and 16 percent of likely voters approve.

Half of adults (50%) say things in California are generally going in the right direction (41% wrong direction), and 52 percent say we will have good times financially in the next year. Adults are more pessimistic about the direction of the nation, with 54 percent saying things are going in the wrong direction (40% right direction). Their opinion of the nation’s economic outlook mirrors their view for the state: 53 percent say the U.S. will have good times financially in the next year (41% bad times).

Californians Diverge From Adults Nationwide On Key Issues

The survey asks about four other issues being discussed at both the state and federal levels. Compared to adults nationwide, Californians are more likely to:

  • View health care reform favorably. About half of Californians (52%) have a generally favorable opinion of the health reform law (42% generally unfavorable). In a national Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 41 percent had a favorable view. The PPIC survey also asks Californians how concerned they are about being able to afford necessary health care when a family gets sick. A strong majority are at least somewhat concerned (51% very concerned, 23% somewhat).
  • View global warming as a very serious problem. Most Californians (60%) say global warming will be a very serious problem for the U.S. if nothing is done to reduce it, compared to 44 percent of adults nationwide in a recent New York Times/Stanford/RFF poll. Across racial/ethnic groups, Latinos (75%) are most likely to see global warming as very serious, followed by blacks (70%), Asians (58%), and whites (46%). Adults age 55 and older (47%) are less likely than younger Californians to view global warming as a serious problem (65% age 18 to 34, 66% age 35 to 54).
  • Support Obama’s executive order on immigration. A strong majority of Californians (70%) support the president’s order protecting up to 4 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. A December ABC News/Washington Post poll showed support at 52 percent nationally. Across all regions and demographic groups, an overwhelming majority of Californians (80%) support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who meet certain requirements.
  • Say the government should do more to reduce income inequality. Asked about the gap between rich and poor, 72 percent of Californians say it is growing—similar to their national counterparts in the January CBS News poll (69% getting larger). However, Californians (61%) are slightly more likely than adults nationwide (55%) to say the government should do more about it. California’s likely voters (80%) are more likely than state residents overall to say the income gap is growing—but less likely (51%) to say that government should do more to reduce it.

More Key findings

  • Most say they’re paying more taxes than they should—page 9
    Half of Californians say the state and local tax system is fair, but 57 percent say they are paying much more or somewhat more than they feel they should.
  • Top reason adults aren’t registered to vote? Lack of citizenship—page 15
    When Californians are asked why they don’t register to vote, the most frequently cited reason is not being a U.S. citizen (34%), followed by the view that voting doesn’t change things (13%).
  • A majority favor the Keystone XL pipeline—page 22
    In the wake of Obama’s veto of the pipeline bill, 54 percent say they favor building the pipeline.


The PPIC Statewide Survey was conducted with funding from The James Irvine Foundation. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 1,706 California adult residents interviewed on landlines and cell phones from March 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 1,427 registered voters, and ±4.7 percent for the 1,064 likely voters. For more information on methodology, see page 25.

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.