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Press Release · July 25, 2018

Most Say Environmental Issues Are Key in Governor’s Race


SAN FRANCISCO, July 25, 2018—Nearly all California likely voters say the candidates’ positions on the environment are important in determining their vote in the governor’s race, according to a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC). Democrat Gavin Newsom leads Republican John Cox in that race by 24 points.

A majority of likely voters (56%) say the candidates’ environmental positions are very important in determining their votes—the largest share to express this view since PPIC first asked likely voters the question in 2006 (44%). Another third of likely voters (31%) say candidate positions on the environment are somewhat important. Across party lines, 67 percent of Democratic likely voters say the candidates’ environmental stances are very important; about half of independents (54%) and a third of Republicans (33%) hold this view.

Newsom, the lieutenant governor, leads businessman Cox 55 percent to 31 percent among likely voters today, with 9 percent undecided. Preferences follow party lines, with 86 percent of Democratic likely voters favoring Newsom and 84 percent of Republicans favoring Cox. Newsom leads among independents, 41 percent to 33 percent. A solid majority of Latino likely voters (64%) and about half of white likely voters (49%) prefer Newsom. (Sample sizes for Asian American and African American likely voters are too small for separate analysis.)

Underscoring Californians’ views about the importance of environmental issues, adults in the state are much more likely than those nationwide to say that global warming is extremely or very important to them personally: 62 percent of California adults express this view, compared to 48 percent of American adults in a June ABC News/Stanford/Resources for the Future poll.

A majority of the state’s likely voters (57%) say global warming poses a very serious threat to the economy and quality of life in California, and a strong majority (69%) say that the effects of global warming have already begun. A large  majority of likely voters (66%) say they are very concerned that extreme weather—when thinking about the possible effect of global warming in California—will result in more severe wildfires.

Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO, summed up: “Many Californians are concerned about the personal impact of global warming in the wake of a prolonged drought and in the face of fears that extreme weather may result in more severe wildfires.”

Feinstein Leads de León by Nearly Two to One

In her bid for a fifth full term as US senator, Dianne Feinstein leads fellow Democrat and state senator Kevin de León 46 percent to 24 percent among likely voters, with 9 percent undecided. She has majority support among Democratic likely voters (66%) and leads de León among independents (38% to 24%). With no Republican candidates to choose from, 47 percent of Republican likely voters and 24 percent of independents say they would not vote in this race. Feinstein leads by at least 20 points among likely voters across education and racial/ethnic groups, as well as among women, those age 55 and older, and residents in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. When the likely voters who volunteer that they would not vote in this race are excluded, Feinstein has a 28-point lead (58% to 30%).

The survey asks if it is more important that candidates for statewide office—such as governor or US senator—work with the Trump administration on environmental issues or push back. Most likely voters (55%) prefer that candidates push back, while 39 percent prefer that candidates work with the administration. Among likely voters who prefer candidates to push back against the Trump administration, 62 percent favor Feinstein and 25 percent favor de León.

Half Approve of Brown, A Third Approve of Trump

Just over half of California likely voters approve of the way Jerry Brown is doing his job as governor (54%) and the way he is handling environmental issues (53%). The legislature has ratings of 46 percent overall and 43 percent on environmental issues.

In contrast to the ratings likely voters give to state leaders, just 34 percent approve of the way Donald Trump is doing his job as president and 27 percent approve of how he is handling environmental issues. Congress’s approval ratings are even lower—14 percent overall and 16 percent on environmental issues.

At a time when state and federal leaders are moving in different directions on climate change and energy issues, 62 percent of California likely voters say they favor the state government making its own policies—separate from the federal government—to address global warming. Majorities of adults across regions and across age, education, gender, and income groups hold this view. Across parties, solid majorities of Californians registered as Democrats (82%) and independents (61%) concur, while just 29 percent of registered Republicans favor the state making its own policies.

Governor Brown is preparing to bring leaders from around the world to San Francisco for a climate change summit in September. Asked about the importance of the state acting as a leader in efforts to fight climate change, 51 percent of likely voters say it is very important (22% somewhat important).

Majority Favor Raising Fuel Emissions Standards for Autos

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has moved to relax emissions standards for automobiles, prompting a lawsuit by California and other states. California currently has a waiver allowing it to set its own higher standards. Asked about setting higher emissions standards for automobiles, 60 percent of likely voters say yes.

Likely voters also support goals to limit greenhouse gas emissions in other areas. A solid majority (66%) favor the state law requiring reduction of emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2030. Strong majorities of registered Democrats (82%) and independents (69%) express this view, as do 41 percent of Republicans. A proposed law would require all of the state’s electricity to come from renewable energy sources by the year 2045, with a goal of 50 percent by 2026. What do Californians think of this idea? A solid majority of likely voters (67%) favor it. Across parties, 81 percent of registered Democrats, 73 percent of independents, and 47 percent of Republicans are in favor.

Most Say Climate Change Policies Will Raise Gas Prices

How do Californians view the economic impact of the state’s efforts to address global warming? Half of likely voters (51%) say these actions will result in more jobs for state residents, while 19 percent say the result will be fewer jobs (21% no effect). However, a majority of likely voters (58%) say action to reduce global warming will increase gasoline prices (12% decrease gas prices, 19% no effect). Half of likely voters (51%) say they are willing to pay more for electricity if it is generated by renewable resources.

“Most Californians have factored in higher gas prices, and say they are willing to pay higher electricity prices,” Baldassare said. “They expect more jobs as the byproducts of the state’s efforts to reduce global warming.”

When likely voters are read a brief description of the state’s cap-and-trade policy, half (50%) say they favor the system, which allows companies that don’t emit their allotted share of greenhouse gases to sell their state-issued permits to other companies to use.

Water Seen as Most Important Environmental Issue

Drought and water supply are named most frequently when likely voters are asked about the most important environmental issue facing the state today (24%). The proportion of likely voters expressing this view has dropped sharply in the last two years (43% in July 2016). A large majority of likely voters say the supply of water is a big problem (60%) or at least somewhat of a problem (25%) in their part of California. Across regions, Orange/San Diego residents (55%) are the most likely to say the water supply is a big problem where they live, while San Francisco Bay Area residents (43%) are the least likely to say so.

In November, Californians will vote on an $8.9 billion bond measure, Proposition 3, to fund water infrastructure projects. A majority of likely voters (58%) plan to vote yes and a quarter (25%) no (17% undecided).

“The drought and water shortages are still on Californians’ minds,” Baldassare said. “They seem willing to support a water bond on the November ballot after passing a multibillion-dollar water bond measure in June.”

The second most frequently named issue among likely voters is air pollution (15%). Two-thirds say air pollution is a problem in their part of the state (29% big problem, 37% somewhat of a problem). Residents in Los Angeles (40%) are the most likely to say it is a big problem and those in Orange/San Diego are the least likely (17%). About half of likely voters (53%) say air pollution is a more serious health threat in lower-income areas than elsewhere in their part of the state.

Majority Oppose More Coastal Drilling

Earlier this year, the federal government announced plans to allow new offshore oil drilling in areas along the nation’s coasts. Today, two-thirds of likely voters (67%) oppose more oil drilling off the California coast. Among all adults, majorities of both coastal (71%) and inland (59%) residents oppose more drilling. Across parties, an overwhelming majority of registered Democrats (82%) and a strong majority of independents (66%) are opposed, while a majority of Republicans (54%) are in favor.

The Trump administration’s efforts to open up more of the nation’s coasts to offshore drilling could alter national marine sanctuaries and affect California’s marine protected areas. However, 88 percent of likely voters support maintaining the rules and boundaries of national sanctuaries and state marine protected areas to protect fish, wildlife, and their habitat.

Asked how concerned they are about the impact of ocean warming on marine and coastal life, 77 percent of likely voters say they are very concerned or somewhat concerned. A majority of likely voters (56%) say the population of most fish off of the California coast has decreased.

About the Survey

This PPIC Statewide Survey was conducted with funding from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Dirk and Charlene Kabcenell Foundation, the Flora Family Foundation, and the Heising-Simons Foundation. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 1,711 California adult residents, including 1,198 interviewed on cell phones telephones and 513 interviewed on landline telephones. Interviews took place from July 8–17, 2018. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish, according to respondents’ preferences.

The sampling error, taking design effects from weighting into consideration, is ±3.4 percent for all adults, ±3.6 percent for the 1,420 registered voters, and ±4.3 percent for the 1,020 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.

The Public Policy Institute of California is dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research. We are a public charity. We do not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor do we endorse, support, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office. Research publications reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of our funders or of the staff, officers, advisory councils, or board of directors of the Public Policy Institute of California.