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Press Release · July 23, 2014

Strong Support for Global Warming Law Tempered by Concerns About Gas, Electricity Prices

Majorities Oppose Increased Fracking, Favor Keystone XL Pipeline

SAN FRANCISCO, July 23, 2014—Most Californians support the state’s landmark law mandating the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, according to a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC). More specifically, strong majorities support two aspects of the state’s efforts to address global warming: a requirement that oil companies produce cleaner transportation fuels and the goal that a third of California’s electricity come from renewable energy sources. But residents’ support declines significantly if these two efforts lead to higher gas prices or electricity bills.

About two-thirds of Californians (68%) support the state law, AB 32, which requires California to reduce its emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Strong majorities have favored this law since the survey first asked about it in July 2006, but a partisan divide has emerged on the question. While most Democrats, Republicans, and independents favored the law in 2006, support since then has increased 14 points among Democrats (from 67% to 81% today) and dropped 26 points among Republicans (from 65% to 39% today). Support has dipped slightly among independents (from 68% to 62% today). A strong majority of Californians (65%) favor the state making its own policies to address global warming.

One explanation for Californians’ consistent support for state action on global warming is that relatively few (26%) think that these efforts will lead to job losses. Most say the state’s efforts will result in more jobs (39%) or won’t affect the number of jobs (27%).

Beginning next year, oil companies in California must comply with the state’s cap-and-trade rules by either producing transportation fuels with lower emissions or buying emissions allowances or offsets. Some argue that this will increase gas prices, while others say any increase would be small. A large majority of Californians (76%) favor this requirement, but support declines to 39 percent if the result is higher prices at the pump.

A strong majority of adults (76%) favor a state law passed in 2011 that calls for a third of California’s electricity to come from renewable energy sources by 2020. But support declines to 46 percent if meeting this goal means paying more for electricity.

Summing up, Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO, said: “Californians want to see government action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but their strong support for clean energy policies diminishes if they have to pay higher electricity bills or gas prices.”

Most Californians say global warming is a very serious (49%) or somewhat serious (31%) threat to the economy and quality of life for California’s future. Democrats (59%) are much more likely than independents (43%) or Republicans (26%) to consider the threat very serious. Across racial/ethnic groups, whites (43%) are the least likely to say the threat is very serious (50% Asians, 54% blacks, 57% Latinos). Also more likely to see the threat as very serious: Californians under age 55, those with only a high school education or less, and those with household incomes less than $40,000.

Reflecting the view that global warming is a threat, 61 percent of Californians say the state government should act right away on its plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, rather than wait for the economy and job situation to improve. Support for taking immediate action is lower among likely voters (52%).

Divided on Cap-and-Trade, Majority Favor Carbon Tax

Although the state’s cap-and-trade system took effect in 2012, awareness of this program is not high among Californians. Just 13 percent say they have heard a lot about it, while 32 percent have heard a little and 55 percent have heard nothing at all about this system, which sets limits on carbon dioxide emissions. Awareness is higher among likely voters (24% heard a lot, 39% a little, 37% nothing at all). After being read a brief description, Californians are more likely to favor (51%) than oppose (40%) the program. Likely voters are slightly more likely to oppose it (43% favor, 50% oppose). Opposition is highest (66%) among those who have heard a lot about cap-and-trade. There is majority support among those who have heard a little (56%) or nothing at all (53%) about the program.

Under a recent agreement between the governor and legislature, 25 percent of the revenues generated by the cap-and-trade program will be spent on high-speed rail, 35 percent on other mass transit projects and affordable housing near transit, and the rest for other purposes. When asked about this plan, 59 percent of adults and 51 percent of likely voters say they favor it.

State government is relying on the cap-and-trade program to meet the emissions reductions goals set by AB 32, but some argue that another effective method would be to tax companies for the carbon pollution they emit. About half of Californians (52%) say they have heard a lot (16%) or a little (36%) about this type of carbon tax. Awareness is higher among likely voters (64% heard a lot or a little). Asked if they would favor a carbon tax, 58 percent of all adults and 54 percent of likely voters say yes.

On other energy policies, overwhelming majorities of adults favor requiring automakers to significantly improve the fuel efficiency of cars sold in the U.S. (85%) and increasing federal funding to develop wind, solar, and hydrogen technology (78%). Most residents (64%) oppose building more nuclear power plants—as they have since the 2011 nuclear power plant disaster in Japan. A slim majority of adults (51%) oppose allowing more oil drilling off the California coast, while 46 percent are in favor. Opposition to offshore drilling was slightly higher in 2010 (59%), after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

54 Percent Oppose More Fracking, 53 Percent Favor Keystone Pipeline

As debates continue over hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, at least half of adults (54% oppose, 36% favor) and likely voters (50% oppose, 40% favor) oppose this method of oil and natural gas extraction. Majorities oppose fracking in the San Francisco Bay Area (61%), Central Valley (56%), Los Angeles (55%), and Orange/San Diego (55%). Residents of the Inland Empire are divided (43% favor, 42% oppose).

Asked about another contentious issue—building the Keystone XL pipeline to transport oil from Canada to refineries in Texas—majorities of California adults (53%) and likely voters (58%) express support. Most Republicans (73%) and independents (56%) favor building the pipeline, while half of Democrats (50%) oppose it (39% favor).

Droughts, Wildfires Top Worries About Effects of Global Warming

Is global warming already having an impact? Yes, say 62 percent of Californians. About a quarter (23%) say global warming’s effects will be felt in the future, and 12 percent say they will never happen. A strong majority say they are very concerned (40%) or somewhat concerned (34%) about global warming. Only about a quarter are not too concerned (11%) or not at all concerned (15%).

Asked about some of the possible effects of global warming in California, majorities say they are very concerned about droughts (64%) or wildfires (61%) that are more severe. Fewer express this level of concern about heat waves that are more severe (44%) or rising sea levels (32%). Across regions, residents of the Central Valley are the most likely to be very concerned about droughts (72%) and residents of the Inland Empire are the least likely (57%).

Most Say Water Districts Should Require Residents to Use Less

In response to an open-ended question, 35 percent name water supply or drought as the most important environmental issue facing California today. This represents an increase of 27 points since July 2011, and the first time in environmental surveys dating back to 2000 that air pollution has not been the top issue. Today, 14 percent mention air pollution, down 13 points since 2011. Amid reports of worsening drought conditions, 54 percent of Californians say water supply is a big problem in their part of the state, 25 percent say it is somewhat of a problem, and only 21 percent say it is not much of a problem. Regionally, Californians living on the coast (52%) are about as likely as those living inland (58%) to say that water supply is a big problem in their areas.

In yet another measure of their concern about drought, strong majorities of residents (75%) and likely voter (70%) say they favor their local water districts requiring residents to reduce water use. Residents across the state are in favor, with those in Los Angeles (80%) the most supportive.

What do Californians think is the primary cause of the drought? Half (51%) say it is natural weather patterns, 38 percent say it is global warming.

Baldassare noted: “Many Californians are very concerned that global warning will lead to more severe droughts, yet most believe that the current water crisis is a result of natural weather patterns.”

Asked about the cause of the state’s current wildfires, 55 percent of residents say they are mostly the result of natural weather patterns and 31 percent say the primary cause is global warming.

The legislature continues to discuss downsizing an $11.1 billion state bond for water projects that is currently on the November ballot. How would residents vote on the measure with a price tag of $11.1 billion? A majority (61%) would vote yes (22% no), as would about half of likely voters (51% yes, 26% no). When those who would vote no are asked how they would vote if the bond were a smaller amount, support increases by 8 points for both adults (69% yes, 14% no) and likely voters (59% yes, 18% no). Asked how important it is that voters pass the state water bond, 46 percent say it is very important and 30 percent say it is somewhat important (likely voters: 44% very important, 24% somewhat important).

More Key Findings

  • Brown leads Kashkari, 52 percent to 33 percent, among likely voters—page 23
    In the governor’s race, Jerry Brown has the support of 80 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of independents, while challenger Neel Kashkari has the support of 70 percent of Republicans.
  • Brown’s job approval holds steady—page 20
    Majorities of Californians (53%) and likely voters (56%) approve of the governor’s job performance. The legislature’s job approval rating is 38 percent among adults and 31 percent among likely voters.
  • Obama’s approval rating stays near its record low in California—page 19
    President Obama’s approval rating is 50 percent among adults and 47 percent among likely voters. Congress continues to have low approval ratings among Californians (22% adults, 15% likely voters).


This PPIC Statewide Survey was conducted with funding from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and The Dirk and Charlene Kabcenell Foundation. Survey methods, questions, and content are determined solely by PPIC. This survey is the 14th on the environment since 2000. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 1,705 California adult residents interviewed on landlines and cell phones from July 8–15, 2014. 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 1,408 registered voters, and ±4.7 percent for the 984 likely voters. For more information on methodology, see page 25.

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.