Independent, objective, nonpartisan research
Press Release · August 1, 2012

Majority See Global Warming, Energy as Important Issues—and Prefer Obama

Strong Support For State Law To Curb Emissions, But Partisan Split Widens

SAN FRANCISCO, August 1, 2012—Most California likely voters say that the presidential candidates’ positions on global warming and energy policy are important in determining their vote, and a majority trust President Obama over Mitt Romney on these issues. These are among the key findings of a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), conducted with funding from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

While global warming and energy policy have not been the focus of debate in the campaigns so far, 30 percent of California likely voters say these issues are very important in determining their choice for president and 42 percent say they are somewhat important. A majority—54 percent—say they trust Obama to handle these issues, while 33 percent trust Romney.

Likely voters’ concerns about the impact of global warming are echoed in their responses to a number of questions in PPIC’s 12th annual survey on the environment: Most say it is a serious threat (40% very serious, 26% somewhat serious) to the economy and quality of life in California’s future. Most (62%) continue to favor the state law requiring California to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, and most (64%) say steps need to be taken right away to counter the effects of global warming.

Mark Baldassare, PPIC’s president and CEO, points out: “California’s likely voters trust Obama over Romney on global warming policy by a wide margin—even though a majority also say that the federal government is not doing enough to address this issue.”

Obama’s 21-point advantage on global warming and energy issues is much larger than his lead in the overall matchup with Romney. Asked how they would vote if the election were held today, 51 percent of likely voters choose Obama and 40 percent choose Romney. Obama’s 11-point advantage on this question is the same as in May (50% to 39%). Today, both candidates have strong support from likely voters in their respective parties (85% of Democrats favor Obama, 81% of Republicans favor Romney). Among independents, 53 percent choose Obama and 37 percent choose Romney. Obama leads Romney among women (51% to 38%), Latinos (68% to 19%), and voters under 35 (63% to 29%). Other groups are more divided: men (50% Obama, 43% Romney), whites (44% Obama, 49% Romney), and voters 35 and older (ages 35–54: 47% Obama, 42% Romney; 55 and older: 49% Obama, 43% Romney).

Likely voters’ preference for Obama on global warming and energy policy does not translate to majority support for his handling of environmental issues. They are evenly divided on this question (46% approve, 46% disapprove). The president’s overall job approval rating is similar, at 50 percent among likely voters (47% disapprove). The U.S. Congress has low ratings on job performance (15% approve, 81% disapprove) and on handling environmental issues (15% approve, 74% disapprove).

Asked to assess what government is doing to address global warming, 53 percent of likely voters say the federal government is not doing enough, while 23 percent say it is doing just enough and 21 percent say it is doing more than enough. Fewer say state and local governments are falling short (42% each).

Brown’s Job Approval Holds at 46 Percent

In their evaluations of the state’s elected leaders, 46 percent of likely voters approve of Governor Jerry Brown’s job performance (42% disapprove, 11% don’t know), similar to May (42%) and last July (48%). On environmental issues, 41 percent approve and 36 percent disapprove of the job the governor is doing, while 23 percent are unsure. The state legislature’s job approval rating (21%) is similar to May (17%) despite passing a budget on time for the second straight year. But approval today is slightly higher than last July (15%) and much higher than July 2010 (10%). Likely voters give the legislature a higher rating (29%) for its handling of environmental issues than for overall job performance.

Partisan Divide Grows Sharply on AB 32

A strong majority of Californians (78%) think that the world’s temperature has probably gone up in the past 100 years (17% probably not). Most (60%) say the effects of global warming have already begun. But while a solid majority (71%) support the state law requiring emissions reductions—AB 32—the partisan divide has increased significantly. Just before Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the law in 2006, 65 percent of adults were in favor, including two in three across parties. Today, Democrats (84%) and independents (65%) favor the law, but Republicans are divided (44% favor, 48% oppose).

Asked how state action to curb global warming would affect jobs in the state, 42 percent of adults say the result would be more jobs, 25 percent say fewer jobs, and 25 percent say there would be no effect.

Majorities of adults—across party lines—favor various ways the state and federal governments can address global warming:

  • Requiring increased energy efficiency for residential and commercial buildings and appliances (77%)
  • Requiring industrial plants, oil refineries, and commercial facilities to reduce emissions (82%)
  • Encouraging local governments to change land use and transportation planning so that people could drive less (77%)
  • Requiring all automakers to further reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases from new cars (78%)
  • Requiring fuel providers to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels by at least 10 percent by the year 2020 (79%)

With Cap-And-Trade Auctions Set To Begin, Most Are Unaware of Program

Most Californians (57%) have heard nothing about the state’s cap-and-trade program, which will be rolled out in November with the first state auction of emissions permits (12% have heard a lot, 30% a little). A cornerstone of efforts to implement AB 32, this program will set limits on companies’ greenhouse gas emissions and allow those who emit less to sell permits to those who exceed their limits. After hearing a brief description of the program, a slim majority of adults (53%) say they favor it (36% oppose). Those who say they have heard a lot about cap and trade oppose it (62% vs. 35% in favor). More than half of those who have heard little (53%) or nothing about it (57%) are in favor.

The state will generate new revenues from the permit auctions and is expected to raise $1 billion in the first year. But most Californians are pessimistic about how the money will be spent.

“When they are told about new state revenues that will be generated from the cap-and-trade program, two in three Californians say they have very little or no confidence that the state government will use the money wisely,” Baldassare says.

Just 5 percent say they have a great deal of confidence that the state will use this money wisely, and 27 percent have only some confidence.

The cap-and-trade program has generated controversy because of concerns that companies in low-income areas will buy permits to exceed their emissions caps, worsening health risks for residents. Asked about this issue, about half of Californians (48%) say that companies buying permits under the program will create a disproportionate health threat in low-income communities and 40 percent disagree.

Air Pollution a Regional Problem For Many

Two-thirds of Californians (64%) say air pollution is a big problem (25%) or somewhat of one (39%) in the region where they live, while 35 percent say it is not a problem. Adults in Los Angeles (35%), the Central Valley (32%), and the Inland Empire (30%) are much more likely than those in Orange/San Diego Counties (17%) and the San Francisco Bay Area (16%) to say that regional air pollution is a big problem. Across racial and ethnic groups, Latinos (37%) and blacks (33%) are much more likely than Asians (20%) and whites (18%) to say air pollution is a big problem.

About half of Californians (49%) say air pollution in their region is a serious health threat to them and their immediate family (18% very serious, 31% somewhat serious). Forty-one percent of adults say that they or someone in their immediate family suffers from asthma or other respiratory problems. Blacks are most likely to say this (54%), followed by Latinos (43%), whites (39%), and Asians (32%). Is air pollution a more serious health threat in lower-income areas than others in their region? Californians are divided in their responses to this question (47% yes, 46% no).

Asked what policies they would support to reduce regional air pollution, majorities are willing to see tougher air pollution standards on the following:

  • New passenger vehicles (65%)
  • Diesel engine vehicles (71%)
  • Commercial and industrial activities (70%)
  • Agriculture and farm activities (54%)

Divided on “Fracking”

Most Californians (54%) have heard at least a little about hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” which is used to extract oil and natural gas from underground rock formations (23% have heard a lot, 31% a little, 46% nothing at all). Fracking for oil extraction is occurring in the state, and there is debate about expanding and regulating it. Residents who have heard about fracking are divided about using it in California (42% favor, 46% oppose, 12% don’t know).

On other energy policy issues, just 31 percent of Californians favor building more nuclear power plants at this time—near the record low (30%) of last July. Majorities across regions are opposed.

Residents are divided on the question of allowing more oil drilling off California’s coast: 48 percent are in favor, 48 percent are opposed. Across regions, 56 percent of residents living along the state’s northern coast are opposed to more drilling, while south coast residents are divided (47% favor, 50% opposed) and inland residents are in favor (58%).

A large majority of residents (78%) favor increasing federal funding to develop wind, solar, and hydrogen technology. Californians show similar support (77%) for the state policy requiring one-third of electricity to come from renewable energy sources by the year 2020. But support drops to 44 percent on this question if the policy means higher electricity bills.


The PPIC Statewide Survey has provided policymakers, the media, and the general public with objective, nonpartisan information on the perceptions, opinions, and public policy preferences of Californians since 1998. The current survey was conducted with funding from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. It is the 12th annual survey on the environment. Findings are based on a survey of 2,500 adult residents reached by landline and cell phones throughout the state. Interviews took place from July 10–24, 2012. They were conducted in English, Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin or Cantonese), Korean, and Vietnamese, according to respondents’ preferences. The sampling error, taking design effects from weighting into consideration, is ±2.9 percent for all adults. For the 1,668 registered voters, it is ±3.2 percent, and for the 1,131 likely voters, it is ±3.6 percent. 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.