Independent, objective, nonpartisan research
Press Release · July 28, 2010

In Big Shift, Californians Oppose Offshore Oil Drilling

Support For Policies To Counter Global Warming Holds Steady

SAN FRANCISCO, July 28, 2010— Three months after a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Californians’ support for more drilling off their coast has plunged, according to a survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC). A solid majority of the state’s residents now oppose more offshore drilling (59% oppose, 36% favor)—a 16-point increase in opposition from last year (43% oppose, 51% favor). The PPIC survey was conducted with support from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and is the 10th in a series about Californians and the environment.

In contrast to the shift in opinion on drilling, Californians’ views on another contentious environmental policy issue have held steady since last year. Two-thirds (67% today, 66% in 2009) favor the state law (AB 32) that requires California to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

AB 32 is the focus of renewed debate because Proposition 23 on the November ballot asks whether the law should be suspended until unemployment drops to 5.5% or below for a minimum of one year. Because the ballot language has not been finalized, we posed a more general question about timing: Should the government take action to reduce emissions right away or wait until the state economy and job situation improve? A slim majority (53%) say California should act right away, while 42 percent say the state should wait.

“Two crises—a major oil spill and a major recession—have affected Californians’ views on environmental policy in very different ways,” says Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “After consistently opposing more offshore oil drilling, residents began to waver as gas prices increased. But events in the gulf appear to have renewed opposition to more drilling here. In contrast, the lingering effect of the recession and a continuing state budget crisis haven’t changed Californians’ overall view of AB 32. While support has declined somewhat since 2007, a solid majority still favors the law.”

Little Confidence in Federal Spill Response

Partisan divisions are stark in many of the environmental survey findings. On the question of allowing more drilling, Democrats (72%) and independents (64%) oppose it, while Republicans (64%) favor it.

Californians are more united in their low levels of confidence in the federal government’s handling of the oil spill. Just 21 percent have either a great deal (8%) or good amount (13%) of confidence in the government to make the right decisions in dealing with the spill. Fewer than one in five residents across political, regional, and demographic groups express a great deal of confidence. Residents also lack confidence in the federal government’s ability to prevent future spills. About three in 10 are very (7%) or fairly (21%) confident; 32 percent are not very confident and 37 percent are not confident at all.

Build More Nuclear Plants? Californians Divided

The question about oil drilling is one of four that PPIC asked about U.S. energy policies. On another issue—nuclear power—Californians are divided (49% oppose, 44% favor) about building more nuclear power plants at this time to address the country’s energy needs and reduce dependence on foreign oil sources. On this question, too, partisan differences emerge: 57 percent of Democrats are opposed, while 67 percent of Republicans and half of independents (51%) favor building more plants now.

There is considerably more consensus on the two other policies. To address the country’s energy needs and reduce dependence on foreign oil sources, overwhelming majorities favor increasing federal funding to develop wind, solar, and hydrogen technology (83%), and favor requiring automakers to significantly improve the fuel efficiency of cars sold in this country (83%). Strong majorities across parties, regions, and demographic groups hold these views.

(This year we asked these energy policy questions in two ways. Half of our sample was asked the questions as we have in the past, with the introductory phrase, “Thinking about the country as a whole, to address the country’s energy needs and reduce dependence on foreign oil sources, do you favor or oppose the following proposals?” Half of the sample was asked the policy questions without this introductory phrase, to test whether or not the framing of the question influenced responses. Results for the four questions asked with the introductory phrase and without it are similar. Details on page 31.)

Will Action To Curb Warming Lead To Lost Jobs? Most Say No

Most Californians (54%) say global warming is already having an impact but are somewhat less likely to hold this view than they were last July (61%). Today 28 percent say global warming’s effects will be felt sometime in the future—up 6 points since last year—while just 16 percent say they will never happen. Nearly three-fourths say global warming is a very serious (44%) or somewhat serious (29%) threat to California’s future economy and quality of life. These findings are similar to last year but have declined since July 2007 (54% very serious, 28% somewhat serious).

Against a backdrop of state and national debates over climate change policies, Californians (76%) support government regulation of emissions from sources like power plants, cars, and factories, with 85 percent of Democrats, 81 percent of independents, and 51 percent of Republicans holding this view. Although a majority (67%) support the idea of AB 32, party divisions are strong: 80 percent of Democrats and 73 percent of independents are in favor, but only 39 percent of Republicans share this view.

Proposition 23 would suspend AB 32 until unemployment in the state is 5.5 percent or lower for four consecutive quarters. We asked Californians how the state’s actions to reduce global warming would affect employment. Forty-five percent say the result would be more jobs, 23 percent say fewer jobs, and 24 percent say the number of jobs wouldn’t be affected. Most Democrats (57%) and half of independents (50%) foresee more jobs in California as a result of action on global warming. Forty-three percent of Republicans foresee fewer jobs; half of Republicans say there would be more jobs (24%) or no effect on jobs (25%).

About half of Californians say the state (48%) and federal (52%) governments are not doing enough to address global warming. When it comes to ideas about state and federal actions to address global warming, strong majorities of Californians think the government should require: increased use of renewable energy sources by utilities (85%); industrial plants, oil refineries, and commercial facilities to reduce emissions (81%); all automakers to further reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases from new cars (79%); and an increase in energy efficiency for residential and commercial buildings and appliances (75%). They also favor encouraging local governments to change land use and transportation planning so that people can drive less (77%). Support for all of these policies is similar to last year.

Most Californians (54%) have not heard of one policy being discussed, the cap and trade system of setting limits on carbon dioxide emissions. After being read a brief description of the idea, 50 percent would support a cap and trade system and 40 percent would oppose it. They are much more likely to support a carbon tax (60% favor, 33% oppose).

Close Races For California Govern.or And U.S. Senate Seat

With the November election approaching, an overwhelming majority (79%) of likely voters say the gubernatorial candidates’ positions on the environment are at least somewhat important. Likely voters are closely divided between Democrat Jerry Brown (37%) and Republican Meg Whitman (34%), with 23 percent undecided. Of those saying that a candidate’s environmental positions are very important in determining their vote, 50 percent would vote for Brown and 16 percent would vote for Whitman. Among those who say a candidate’s environmental positions are somewhat important, Whitman is favored (42% to 33%). Preferences follow party lines, with independents split (30% Brown, 28% Whitman, 30% undecided). (The survey questionnaire lists results for all six candidates listed on the November ballot.)

Most likely voters (79%) also view the U.S. Senate candidates’ positions on the environment as at least somewhat important. Thirty-nine percent of likely voters support Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, 34 percent support Republican Carly Fiorina, and 22 percent are undecided. Those who view candidates’ positions on the environment as very important are three times as likely to support Boxer (54%) as Fiorina (18%). Among those who say candidates’ views on the environment are somewhat important, support is evenly divided (37% to 37%). Each candidate has the support of her party’s likely voters. Among independents, 35 percent support Boxer, 29 percent support Fiorina, and 25 percent are undecided.

President Barack Obama’s approval rating has dropped 9 points since last July and 16 points since his record high (72%) in May 2009. Approval of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s handling of environmental issues (34%) is higher than his overall rating (25%). The state legislature’s approval rating is 15 percent.

Most Support Tougher Pollution Standards For New Vehicles

When asked the open-ended question of what is the most important environmental issue facing Californians, air pollution is most often mentioned, as it has been since 2000. But it has declined in importance to residents from 33 percent in 2000 to 23 percent today. Other frequently named issues this year are water supply (12%), energy and oil drilling (11%), and water pollution (6%).

Similar to last year (23%), one in four Californians consider air pollution in their region a big problem (25%). Majorities of residents in Los Angeles (63%), the Inland Empire (57%), and the Central Valley (54%) consider air pollution a very serious or somewhat serious health threat, and 43 percent of Californians say they or an immediate family member has asthma or other respiratory problems.

When it comes to air quality policies, a strong majority (70%) would be willing to see tougher air pollution standards on new passenger vehicles. But there is much less agreement across party lines: 86 percent of Democrats and 73 percent of independents are willing to see stricter standards, compared to 45 percent of Republicans.

The California Air Resources Board is poised to consider easing or delaying implementation of diesel pollution rules because of their economic impact on truck owners and businesses. Asked about tougher air pollution standards on diesel engine vehicles, an overwhelming majority (75%) of Californians are willing to see stricter standards, a view held by solid majorities across political, regional, and demographic groups. Similarly, 75 percent would be willing to see tougher air pollution standards on commercial and industrial activities. A smaller majority (58%) would be willing to see tougher standards on agriculture and farm activities.


The PPIC Statewide Survey has provided policymakers, the media, and the general public with objective, advocacy-free information on the perceptions, opinions, and public policy preferences of California residents since 1998. This is the 10th survey on the environment since 2000 and is part of an annual series conducted with funding from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. It is intended to inform policymakers and encourage discussion about environmental issues. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 2,502 California adult residents reached by landline and cell phones throughout the state. Interviews took place from July 6–20, 2010, and were conducted in English, Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin or Cantonese), Vietnamese, and Korean. The sampling error is ±2 percent for all adults, ±2.2 percent for the 1,971 registered voters, and ±2.7 percent for the 1,321 likely voters. For more information on methodology, see pages 25–26.

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. As a private operating foundation, 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.