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Press Release · July 26, 2006

Special Survey on the Environment: Californians Believe Global Warming Clock Is Ticking

With Little Faith in Feds, Residents Favor State Making Own Policies to Combat Effects; Escalating Pain at the Pump; Environment an Important Issue in the November Election

SAN FRANCISCO, California, July 26, 2006 — Even before the record-setting heat wave of the last two weeks, Californians were becoming so alarmed about global warming that a vast majority want the state to act on its own to fight the trend, according to a survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) with funding from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

“Californians now rank global warming as more important than at any time since we first started asking about it in June of 2000,” says PPIC survey director Mark Baldassare. “They are so concerned that two-thirds actually want the state to address this issue – completely independent of the federal government.” Support for such unilateral action is up by 11 points (65% vs. 54%) since last year at this time and cuts across party lines: Democrats (73%), independents (70%), and Republicans (62%) all strongly support state action. This sense of urgency is no doubt fueled by lack of confidence in Washington’s response: Over half (54%) of Californians believe the federal government is on the wrong track when it comes to global warming; only 29 percent believe the feds are on the right track.

Overall, the survey – conducted just before the recent wave of record-setting temperatures – finds that energy and global warming have jumped to number two and three, respectively, on residents’ list of the most important environmental issues facing the state. Nearly half (49%) say global warming is a “very serious” threat to the state’s economy and quality of life; another 30 percent believe it is a “somewhat serious” threat. A sense of immediacy is evidently driving these fears: 63 percent of residents believe the effects of global warming are already underway – a six-point increase from a year ago. Moreover, the vast majority of Californians (79%) believe it is necessary to take steps right away to counter the effects of global warming – up from 73 percent in July of 2003.

“The immediacy of the issue, the feeling that it’s happening as we speak, has become more powerful,” says Baldassare. “This sense of urgency is reflected in the public’s attitudes and in some of their policy preferences.” Indeed, California’s electorate strongly favors a proposal by state lawmakers that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020: Two-thirds (66%) of likely voters support the proposed legislation and only 19 percent oppose it. Overwhelming support also exists among all likely voters (80%), Democrats (88%), independents (79%), and Republicans (71%) for the state law requiring automakers to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new cars.

Ouch! Gas Prices Really Starting To Sting; Fuel Efficiency, Alternative Energy Embraced

A large majority of Californians (67%) now say that gasoline prices are causing them financial hardship – seven points higher than adults nationwide (60% according to an ABC News poll). Moreover, prices are hurting some more than others: Latinos (83%) and those with annual incomes under $40,000 (80%) are considerably more likely than other Californians to say they are suffering financial adversity. As a result of soaring prices, a majority (54%) of residents say they have cut back significantly on their driving – an 11-point jump from a year ago.

The pain is evidently strong enough that people are willing to make big changes. About seven in ten (69%) Californians now say they are considering getting a more fuel-efficient car, including SUV owners (71%). Even higher numbers of residents (74%) and likely voters (82%) also say they are willing to put their money where their mouth is by requiring automakers to improve vehicle fuel efficiency – even if it increases the cost of buying a new car.

In addition, residents of all political persuasions are ready to jump on the bandwagon for alternative energy sources: 81 percent of all adults support the government spending more money to develop alternative energy sources for automobiles, including 87 percent of Democrats, 85 percent of independents, and 82 percent of Republicans. Similarly high, and bipartisan, support is behind increased government spending on renewable sources of energy such as solar, geothermal, and wind power (all adults, 83%; Democrats, 89%; independents, 86%; Republicans, 82%). In contrast, half (51%) of residents oppose drilling off the California coast, with Democrats opposed and Republicans in favor.

Not Everybody’s Problem… Air Pollution an Issue of Race, Region

Although air pollution remains the number one environmental concern among Californians, the level of concern has trended downward in the past six years: In June 2000, one-third (33%) of residents called air pollution the state’s most important environmental issue, compared to about one-quarter (24%) today. But statewide perceptions mask a wide gulf between different racial and ethnic groups in the perceived seriousness of air pollution as a regional problem. Latinos (53%) and blacks (49%) are far more likely than whites (36%) or Asians (34%) to say air pollution is a big problem in their region. Latinos (63%) and blacks (54%) are also more likely than whites (44%) or Asians (42%) to say that their region’s air quality has grown worse in the past 10 years.

Even more alarming are the different perceptions of health effects related to air pollution. Blacks (38%) and Latinos (31%) are much more likely than whites (18%) or Asians (13%) to say air pollution is a very serious threat to themselves and their families. Moreover, when linking pollution to environmental equity, there are even greater differences across racial and ethnic groups: 70 percent of Latinos and 63 percent of blacks say air pollution is a more serious threat in lower-income areas than other areas, compared to 42 percent of Asians and only 35 percent of whites. “There is a serious disconnect, not only about the gravity of the issue but about who is being affected,” says Baldassare. “Latinos are twice as likely as whites to believe that air quality is worse in low-income areas.”

Regional differences compound the complexity of the issue. Residents of Los Angeles (54%) are almost twice as likely as those in Orange/San Diego Counties (29%) to say air pollution is a big problem. Further north, Central Valley residents (51%) are far more likely than those in the San Francisco Bay Area (33%) to consider air pollution a big problem. Residents in inland areas of the state (Inland Empire, 62%; Central Valley, 59%) are more likely than coastal residents to say their air quality is worse than it was 10 years ago (Los Angeles, 48%; Orange/San Diego Counties, 46%; San Francisco Bay Area, 45%).

So who – or what – do Californians blame for pollution? Personal vehicle emissions (26%) top the list, followed by commercial vehicle emissions (18%), growth and development (16%), and industry and agriculture (12%). Although there is some statewide agreement on the causes of air pollution, regional difference rears its head again: Only 19 percent of Central Valley residents cite personal vehicles as the biggest cause, compared to 34 percent in the San Francisco Bay Area. Residents of the Inland Empire are as likely to cite pollution from outside the area as they are personal vehicles (21% each). There is, however, greater agreement on at least one means of combating pollution. When asked if they would accept tougher air pollution standards on new vehicles even if it made them more expensive, two in three (66%) residents across the state say they would support such standards – as would SUV owners (67%).

Come November… the Environment Matters

About eight in ten (85%) likely voters say that candidates’ positions on environmental issues such as air pollution, global warming, and energy policy will be at least somewhat important in determining how they will vote in this November’s gubernatorial election – and 44 percent consider it very important. A majority of Latino likely voters (54%) rate the candidates’ stand as very important for their decision.

This issue could dog Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, even though he has a lead over opposing candidate Phil Angelides in the poll. Currently, 43 percent of all likely voters say they would vote for Schwarzenegger, 30 percent would vote for Angelides, 8 percent would vote for others, and 19 percent are undecided. Schwarzenegger’s approval ratings for handling environmental issues are mixed (approve 44%, disapprove 36%, don’t know 20%). Further, despite the governor’s significant push on alternative energy issues, approval for his energy policy is split (approve 40%, disapprove 38%); and nearly one-quarter (22%) of voters say they don’t know. The governor’s overall approval ratings are also mixed, with 49 percent approving and 43 percent disapproving of the way he is running the state.

More Key Findings

  • Californians to All Government: Do More on Environment! — Page 13
    Although the federal government fares poorly – with 61 percent of Californians saying it is not doing enough to protect the environment – nearly half (46%) say the same about state government.
  • Little Approval for Bush’s Environmental, Energy Policies — Page 14
    Large majorities of likely voters disapprove of the way President Bush is handling environmental (63%) and energy (65%) issues, while relatively few approve (28% and 27%, respectively).
  • Senate Race: Feinstein Has Double Digit Lead — Page 17
    Senator Dianne Feinstein has a solid lead over her opponent Richard Mountjoy (42% to 21%).
  • Prop 87: Alternative Energy A Hit — Page 18
    Sixty-one percent of likely voters support this November’s “Alternative Energy Initiative.”

About the Survey

This edition of the PPIC Statewide Survey – a survey on the environment – is the fifth in a three-year survey series made possible with funding from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. This survey is intended to raise public awareness, inform decisionmakers, and stimulate public discussions about issues related to the environment. Findings of this survey are based on a telephone survey of 2,501 California adult residents interviewed between July 5 and July 18, 2006. Interviews were conducted in English, Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese, or Chinese. 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.

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.