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Press Release · July 29, 2015

Majority Say Global Warming Contributing to Drought

Most Suport State Efforts To Limit Emissions, But Partisan Divide Persists

SAN FRANCISCO, July 29, 2015—A solid majority of Californians believe that global warming is already having an impact, and nearly two-thirds of residents say it has contributed to the state’s current drought, according to a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

As Governor Brown and state policymakers seek to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions, 62 percent of Californians say the effects of global warming have begun, while 24 percent say they will happen in the future. Just 10 percent say the effects will never happen. Democrats (73%) and independents (65%) are far more likely than Republicans (37%) to say global warming’s effects have begun. Notably, 31 percent of Republicans say they will never happen. Across racial/ethnic groups, Latinos (69%) are the most likely to say the effects have already begun, followed by blacks (63%), Asians (60%), and whites (58%).

Most residents say that global warming is a very serious (52%) or somewhat serious (27%) threat to California’s future and quality of life. Democrats (66%) are more likely than independents (51%) and far more likely than Republicans (26%) to call the threat very serious.

“The threat of global warming to the state’s future is a shared belief among inland and coastal residents and Californians across racial and ethnic groups,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “But there are persistent partisan divisions on climate change.”

As California copes with a fourth year of drought, 64 percent of residents say global warming has contributed to it, while 28 percent say it has not. The partisan split is sharp: 78 percent of Democrats say global warming has contributed to drought and 62 percent of Republicans say it has not. Asked how concerned they are about the possible impact of global warming on droughts, 84 percent of residents say they are concerned (50% very concerned, 34% somewhat concerned) about droughts that are more severe.

Asked to name the most important environmental issue facing the state today, 58 percent of Californians say it is water supply or drought—up 23 points from July 2014 and up 50 points from July 2011. Air pollution ranks a distant second, with 9 percent saying it is the most important issue. Last year was the first year that air pollution was not the top issue and water or drought was number one. Another indication of the importance of the drought: most residents say they are following news about it either very closely (38%) or fairly closely (40%).

A strong majority of Californians (68%) say the water supply in their part of California is a big problem, similar to the shares in March (66%) and May (69%). Residents of the Central Valley (76%) are the most likely and those in Los Angeles (62%) the least likely to say their water supply is a big problem.

Residents take a more positive view of their neighbors’ response to the drought than they did earlier this year. About half (52%) say that people in their region are not doing enough, compared to 66 percent in March and 60 percent in May.

Most Don’t Know How Much Water They Should Be Saving

Asked about the State Water Resources Board’s implementation of a 25 percent statewide water cutback, Californians are most likely (46%) to say this action does the right amount to respond to the drought, while 36 percent say it is not enough of a response and 11 percent say it is too much.

To reduce water use 25 percent statewide, the water board has set mandatory reduction amounts for each local water agency. However, 64 percent of adults say they don’t know their district’s target amount. San Francisco Bay Area residents (38%) are the most likely to know their district’s target and those in Los Angeles (24%) are the least likely. Less than half of homeowners (44%) know their district’s target, but they are far more likely than renters (18%) to know. Among those who say they do know, 52 percent say the target amount is right, 23 percent say it is not enough, and 20 percent say it is too much.

Majorities Favor AB 32 Goals—and More Ambitious Ones

Solid majorities of Californians (69% adults, 63% likely voters) favor AB 32, the 2006 state law that requires reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Most Californians have favored this law since PPIC began asking about it in July 2006. But while majorities across partisan lines expressed support in 2006 (68% independents, 67% Democrats, 65% Republicans), a strong partisan divide has opened up since then. Support among Democrats rose in 2007, with more than three-fourths favoring the law, and Republican support declined in 2009, with fewer than half in favor each time PPIC has asked the question since then. Today, 79 percent of Democrats and 74 percent of independents favor the law, compared to 46 percent of Republicans.

With the state on track to meet AB 32 goals, a new bill—SB 32—would set more ambitious ones. The bill would require the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. Most adults (69%) and likely voters (62%) favor this proposal—a close mirroring of support for AB 32. As with AB 32, blacks (76%), Latinos (75%), and Asians (71%) are slightly more likely than whites (65%) to favor SB 32’s goals.

Baldassare summed up: “At a time when many Californians are making a connection between the current drought and climate change, there is strong support for expanding the state’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The legislature is also considering SB 350, a bill to reduce petroleum use in cars by 50 percent, require half of the state’s electricity to come from renewable energy sources, and require existing buildings to double their energy efficiency by 2030. When asked about the targets in the bill, strong majorities favor each one. The electricity goal has the highest support (82%), with majorities across party lines in favor. Most adults (73%) favor reducing petroleum use in vehicles, but there are partisan differences: 83 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of independents are in favor, while a majority of Republicans (53%) are opposed. Asked about increasing energy efficiency in buildings, 70 percent of adults are in favor. Democrats (82%) and independents (75%) are more likely to be in favor than are Republicans (52%).

Most Californians say it is very important (61%) or somewhat important (25%) for the state government to pass regulations and spend money now to prepare for the future effects of global warming. Just 13 percent say it is not too important. A quarter of adults (24%) say California’s actions to reduce global warming in the future will result in fewer jobs around the state, while 38 percent say the result will be more jobs, and 26 percent say there will be no effect on the number of jobs. Across regions, age, education, and racial/ethnic groups, pluralities say state action would result in more jobs.

Support for Increased Incentives for Electric Cars, Solar Power

When asked about proposals that could help the state achieve some of the goals in SB 350, 67 percent of adults and 64 percent of likely voters favor increasing tax credits and incentives for electric vehicle purchases. Independents (74%) and Democrats (71%) are more likely than Republicans (51%) to favor this idea. An overwhelming majority (80%) of adults who have considered buying an electric vehicle support increasing incentives, as do more than half (52%) of those who have not considered buying one. There is even stronger support for building more charging stations and infrastructure to support electric vehicles (81% adults, 75% likely voters). Strong majorities across parties favor this proposal.

Californians also express strong support for solar power. Large majorities favor building more solar power stations in California (88% adults, 83% likely voters) and increasing tax credits and financial incentives for rooftop solar panels (78% adults, 78% likely voters). There are high levels of support across parties.

Another way for the state to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to set stricter emission limits on power plants. Asked their views of this idea, 73 percent of adults and 66 percent of likely voters favor it.

Divided on Keystone Pipeline and Opposed to Offshore Drilling, Fracking

About half of Californians (49%) favor building the Keystone XL pipeline, and 38 percent are opposed. Support has hovered around 50 percent since PPIC first asked in 2013 about building the pipeline to transport oil from Canadian oil sands to Texas.

Californians are less likely to favor two other methods to make more oil available: offshore drilling and fracking. In the wake of the oil spill off the Santa Barbara coast in May, support for increased coastal drilling has fallen from 46 percent last July to 38 percent—the lowest point since July 2010 (36%), following the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Most adults (56%) also oppose increased use of fracking to extract oil and natural gas from underground rock formations. This is the highest level of opposition since PPIC began asking the question in 2013. Just 33 percent favor more fracking. Majorities of Democrats (71%) and independents (63%) oppose increased fracking, while 53 percent of Republicans support it.

“Californians are clearly enthusiastic about alternatives to fossil fuels, such as solar power and electric vehicles,” Baldassare said. “And this year’s survey also shows more opposition to offshore oil drilling and fracking.”

Most Say Air Pollution Is a Problem

The share of Californians who say air pollution is a problem is at its lowest point since PPIC began asking the question in 2000. Nevertheless, a majority of adults say it is either a big problem (24%) or somewhat of a problem (34%) in their part of California. Across regions, Los Angeles residents (39%) are the most likely to say air pollution is a big problem. Latinos (67%) and blacks (67%) are more likely than Asians (53%) or whites (51%) to say it is a problem. Nearly half of adults (49%) say air pollution is a serious threat to themselves and their immediate families.

Marjorities Approve of Brown, Obama

The survey asks how Californians rate their elected leaders—both on overall job performance and on their handling of environmental issues. Majorities (53% adults, 55% likely voters) approve of Governor Brown’s job performance. Slightly fewer approve of the way he handles environmental issues (47% adults, 48% likely voters). The legislature’s job approval rating is lower than the governor’s (39% adults, 32% likely voters). Its rating on environmental issues is 42 percent among adults and 32 percent among likely voters.

Most adults (57%) and about half of likely voters (51%) approve of President Obama’s job performance, while his rating is slightly lower on environmental issues (53% adults, 47% likely voters). Congress’ job approval rating is low (29% adults, 17% likely voters). Its rating on environmental issues is slightly higher (33% adults, 20% likely voters).


This PPIC Statewide Survey was conducted with funding from The Dirk and Charlene Kabcenell Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, and the Pisces Foundation. Survey methods, questions, and content are determined solely by PPIC. This is the 15th annual PPIC Statewide Survey on environmental issues since 2000. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 1,702 California adult residents interviewed on landlines and cell phones from July 12–21, 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 percent for the 1,356 registered voters, and ±4.5 percent for the 1,064 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.