Californians Remain Bullish on Environmental Protection, Despite Pandemic and Budget Woes

The beach at Carlsbad, California. (Courthouse News photo / Marianne Girdner)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — A resurgent coronavirus and a spoiled economy haven’t dampened Californians’ support for strict climate change polices, according to a statewide poll released Wednesday. 

With under 100 days until Election Day, a Public Policy Institute of California survey found most residents want the state to continue key environmental policies, such as the nation’s strongest greenhouse gas limit, zero-emission big rigs and cap-and-trade. In addition, 83% of likely voters responded the presidential candidates’ environmental planks are important in determining how to vote in November.

“In the midst of the unprecedented Covid-19 crisis, Californians are highly supportive of the state’s policies to address global warming,” said PPIC president and CEO Mark Baldassare in a statement.

The poll of over 1,500 adults from five California regions comes one month after lawmakers and Governor Gavin Newsom approved plans to patch the state’s shattered finances. 

The global pandemic brought California’s $3 trillion economy to a halt last spring, ending 118 months of consecutive job growth and in the process erased a healthy budget surplus. Newsom was forced to tear up a January budget proposal chalked with progressive items and concede to a bare-bones spending bill.

To fill an estimated $54 billion deficit, Newsom and lawmakers were forced to make across-the-board cuts, including to natural resources and environmental protection agencies.

Taken after the new budget was passed, the PPIC poll found 69% of respondents approve of Newsom’s handling of environmental issues and 57% said global warming is either extremely or very important. To fight climate change, 70% of likely voters added they would be willing to make “major lifestyle changes.”

In a state he lost to Hillary Clinton in 2016 by over 4 million votes, President Donald Trump remains unpopular with many California voters. Just 29% of likely voters said they approve of the president’s handling of environmental issues while 70% responded Biden would do a better job on the environment.

While an overwhelming majority (80%) expect to face bad economic conditions in the next year, over 60% said the state’s strict environmental regulations are “worth the cost.”

When asked whether the state should take immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, likely voters were nearly split as 51% responded yes compared to 49% who think the state should wait until the economy improves.

The poll revealed a glaring partisan rift, with 67% of Democrats supporting immediate environmental action as opposed to 18% of Republicans. Geographically, respondents from the San Francisco Bay and Los Angeles areas backed quick climate actions, while those outside the major urban areas said the state should wait.

As for specific environmental issues, over 70% are against expanded oil drilling off California’s coast and 89% are in favor of maintaining the current boundaries of the state’s protected marine areas.

The results indicate the Trump administration’s decisions to sell new oil leases and remove commercial fishing restrictions in certain protected areas are decidedly unpopular in the Golden State.

“Most Californians say that the conditions of California’s oceans and beaches are important to the state’s future,” Baldassare said, “and they overwhelmingly oppose more offshore oil drilling and favor marine protected areas.”  

The survey, “Californians & the Environment,” was conducted July 8-17 and carries a 3.4% sampling error. Respondents were intentionally selected from the Central Valley, the Bay Area, Inland Empire, Los Angeles area and Orange/San Diego counties. Of the 80% who said they were registered voters, 49% were Democrats, 26% Republican and 23% independent.

Californians were also asked about some of the state’s most persistent and perplexing environmental troubles.

Just over half (52%) of likely voters said the threat of wildfires is a big problem, 39% feel air pollution is a major concern and 46% agree water supply is a big problem. 

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