SAN FRANCISCO, California, February 23, 2006 —When it comes to environmental and coastal issues, Californians give President George Bush, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and government in general, ratings that range from barely passing to positively dismal, according to a survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) with funding from The David and Lucile Packard Foundation. For the president and governor, those harsh views extend to their overall job performance as well.
President Bush’s approval ratings in California are among the lowest they have been since he first took office (61% disapprove, 36% approve). They are even lower for environmental and coastal policy: Only 27 percent approve of his handling of these issues. Among likely voters, his ratings are similarly grim (37% overall job approval, 26% environmental policy approval). Not surprisingly, Democrats and independents are mostly responsible for the president’s negative numbers and Republicans for his positive ones: Majorities of Republicans approve of his overall job performance (74%) and handling of environmental policy (51%), while Democrats overwhelmingly disapprove of both (87% and 82%, respectively) and independents strongly disapprove (63% and 62% respectively).
Governor Schwarzenegger fares about as poorly. His overall ratings among residents have lost the ground gained last month, tumbling to 35 percent from 40 percent approval in January. Among likely voters, the ratings slid to 40 percent from 45 percent. As with President Bush, Californians are even less enthusiastic about the governor’s handling of the environment, including marine and coastal issues: Only 28 percent of all residents and 31 percent of likely voters approve of the job he’s doing. Again, the partisan differences are resounding: While almost three-fourths (72%) of Democrats disapprove of the governor’s overall performance, 66 percent of Republicans approve. On coastal and environmental issues, however, even his party’s support is not quite so hearty: a bare majority (51%) of Republicans approve of his record on these issues.
Interestingly, a significant share of Californians – across political parties – don’t know whether Governor Schwarzenegger is doing a good or bad job on environmental and coastal policy (25% all adults, 30% independents, 26% Republicans, 22% Democrats). “The governor has actually placed considerable emphasis on environmental issues such as improving air quality, developing less polluting forms of energy, and reducing global warming,” says PPIC statewide survey director Mark Baldassare. “It’s not clear whether greater voter knowledge about his environmental policies would help his overall standing, but it is clear that he hasn’t connected well with the public on these issues.”
Beyond leaders, Californians have little confidence in government generally when it comes to the environment – and specifically marine and coastal issues: Six in ten (60%) say the federal government is not doing enough to protect the coastal environment of the United States. Half (50%) say the state government is not doing enough to protect California’s coast. If they had to choose a branch of government to manage the state’s coastal resources, residents are split between local government (36%) and state government (36%), while the federal government (14%) is a distant third.
Coastal Issues Matter for ’06 Elections; Love Affair with the Beach Unites Parties
Considering how important beaches and the ocean environment are to state residents, political leaders may want to heed the possible fallout from these critical attitudes. An impressive nine in 10 Californians say the quality of the beach and ocean is just as important to them personally as well as for the overall quality of life and economy in the state. Residents say the condition of the coast is very important (61%) or somewhat important (30%) on a personal level, very important (70%) or somewhat important (24%) to the state’s quality of life, and very important (63%) or somewhat important (30%) to the economy. Moreover, majorities across regions and political parties agree, although Republicans are less likely to say any of these issues are very important.
How might this love of the coast translate into decisions at the 2006 ballot box? In the election for California governor, an overwhelming number of likely voters (87%) say candidates’ positions on the environment and coast will be important. This includes majorities in all major political parties (Democrats 92%, independents 89%, Republicans 80%), although fewer Republicans (30%) than Democrats (57%) or independents (50%) say this is very important. For the 2006 U.S. Senate election, 87 percent of likely voters say candidates’ environmental positions will be important, as do majorities of Democrats (93%), independents (90%), and Republicans (76%).
“Californians treasure the ocean and the state’s beaches,” says Baldassare. “These attitudes run deep and wide across political parties, coastal and inland areas, and in the growing Latino population – to ignore them could be politically perilous.” One example of Latino sentiment: Latinos are more likely than whites (60% to 44%) to say the environmental positions of gubernatorial candidates are very important to them.
There is unusual partisan harmony on every environmental policy question asked in the survey – except offshore oil drilling. Large majorities in all parties favor policies that protect the state’s coastal environment – even if it means less access to some areas and activities, greater restrictions on fishing, and higher fees or taxes. Support is high for reducing ocean and beach pollution even if it means higher taxes (Democrats 80%, independents 73%, Republicans 68%); for restricting development along the coast (independents 74%, Democrats 72%, Republicans 65%); for protecting wetlands and habitats (Democrats 84%, independents 76%, Republicans 69%); and for creating more marine reserves that are off-limits to fishing (Democrats 77%, independents 74%, Republicans 65%). In fact strong majorities support creating these Marine Protected Areas in 10 to 20 percent of the state’s coastal waters (Democrats 81%, independents 73%, Republicans 63%).
But Partisan Accord May Not Run Deep
Despite this accord over ocean and beach protection, partisan divisions return strongly when it comes to just how concerned Californians are about the current and future state of the coastal environment. These divisions may indicate how far some groups are really willing to go to for “environmentally friendly” policies. For example, while 85 percent of residents say coastal pollution is a problem, far fewer Republicans (35%) than Democrats (58%) or independents (49%) believe this is a big problem. Similarly, more Democrats (66%) and independents (55%) than Republicans (39%) rate the health and quality of the ocean for marine life as not so good or poor.
Republicans (39%) are also significantly less likely than Democrats (57%) or independents (53%) to say pollution from local streets and storm drains is a big problem. And few Republicans (29%) consider contamination of fish and seafood to be a big problem, compared to Democrats (53%) and independents (46%). “Democrats and independents are much more negative in their perceptions of coastal conditions, ocean trends, and environmental threats than Republicans,” says Baldassare. “Combine those misgivings with their almost complete lack of faith in the federal government to care for the state’s coast, and it really puts pressure on state and local leaders to address their concerns.”
Offshore Oil Drilling
The highly controversial issue of opening up more of California’s coast to oil drilling is again in the news – and again is strongly opposed by majorities of state residents (64%) and likely voters (67%). In fact, opposition among all adults today is higher than when we asked similar questions in PPIC surveys conducted during the summers of 2003 (54%), 2004 (50%), and 2005 (53%). The political divide on the issue is plain, with 80 percent of Democrats and 69 percent of independents opposed to the idea, versus 46 percent of Republicans. A slim majority of Republicans (51%) favor more offshore drilling.
More Key Findings
- Perturbed by Pollution in the Southland — Page 5
Coastal contamination from local street and storm drain pollution worries residents in the state’s South Coast (61%) much more than in the North Coast (42%) or inland (44%) areas.
- Strictly Speaking: California Coastal Commission Too Lax — Page 7
More residents (44%) say the California Coastal Commission is not strict enough in controlling coastal development than say the current controls are about right (27%) or too strict (10%).
- Latinos More Beach Bound — Page 13
More Latinos than whites say ocean and beach conditions are very important to them personally (67% to 60%) and that ocean and beach pollution along the California coast is a big problem (59% to 46%).
- Something’s Fishy — Page 16 and 17
Many Californians are very concerned about fish or seafood for sale having contaminants such as mercury (64%) and being commercially overfished (46%). Still, over half eat seafood or fish at least once a week (56%) and consider it very important to a healthy diet (54%).
About the Survey
This survey on California’s environment – made possible by funding from The David and Lucile Packard Foundation – is a special edition of the PPIC Statewide Survey. This is the seventh survey in a series intended to raise public awareness, inform decisionmakers, and stimulate public discussions about environmental and growth-related issues facing the state. Findings of this survey are based on a telephone survey of 2,003 California adult residents interviewed between February 8th and February 15th, 2006. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%. The sampling error for subgroups is larger. For more information on methodology, see page 19.
Mark Baldassare is research director at 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. His recent book, A California State of Mind: The Conflicted Voter in a Changing World, is available at www.ppic.org.
PPIC is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public policy through objective, nonpartisan research on the economic, social, and political issues that affect Californians. 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.