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The Public Policy Institute of California has released a new study on the opinions of Californians relating to global warming and energy policy in the coming years. Most voters, the Institute reports, favor President Obama’s environmental stewardship over what they expect Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s might entail.

Although climate change and energy policy issues have been largely upstaged by other issues including the economy, Romney’s refusal to release tax returns, and lingering doubt on the right about Obama’s place of birth, 30 percent of likely California voters say these issues are “very important” and another 42 percent say they are “somewhat important.”

“California's likely voters trust Obama over Romney on global warming policy by a wide margin—even though a majority also say that the federal government is not doing enough to address this issue,” says Mark Baldassare, the Institute’s president and CEO.

While Obama trounces Romney 54-33 in questioning related to the candidates’ energy policy, California voters overall prefer Obama by a slimmer margin – 51 percent to 40, the same 11 point advantage he showed the last time the question was asked in May. More telling in a state generally conceded to Democrats in national elections, Obama has a 16 point advantage (53 percent versus 37 percent) amongst self-identified political independents.

While voters say they like Obama’s policies in theory, they’re less approving of them in action, with an even split of 46 percent of voters each approving and disapproving of his handling of environmental issues.

On other topics, congressional approval ratings continue to rank among all time lows, with 15 percent of voters approving of the job Congress is doing, as compared to an 81 percent disapproval rating. When questioned specifically on handling environmental issues the numbers are similar, with 15 percent approval and 76 percent disapproval.

The public’s opinion of state government also remains generally bleak. Governor Jerry Brown enjoys a 46 percent approval rating, with 42 percent of voters dissatisfied with his performance. Despite passing a budget on time for the second straight year, only 21 percent of the electorate is satisfied with the state legislature’s performance.

The political divide on global warming continues to grow. While 78 percent of Californians believe the world’s temperature has risen over the last 100 years (17 percent believe it has not), 84 percent of Democrats, 64 percent of independents, and only 44 percent of Republicans favor AB 32, a state law requiring the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. When Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the bill into law in 2006, it enjoyed a firm two-thirds support across party lines.

Despite newfound Republican resistance to the law, voters across party lines showed strong support for requiring increased energy efficiency for residential and commercial buildings and appliances (77 percent), requiring industrial plants, oil refineries, and commercial facilities to reduce emissions (82 percent), encouraging local governments to change land use and transportation planning so that people could drive less (77 percent), requiring all automakers to further reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases from new cars (78 percent), and requiring fuel providers to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels by at least 10 percent by the year 2020 (79 percent).

Meanwhile, 57 percent of Californians know nothing about the state’s cap-and-trade program, due to roll out this November. The program sets limits on companies’ greenhouse gas emissions, and allows those firms that pollute less than their allotment to sell the remainder to others who choose not to limit pollution. After the program is explained to residents, a slim majority (53 percent) are supportive. The state expects to raise up to $1 billion in the first year of the program by conducting auctions for the credits.

But “when they are told about new state revenues that will be generated from the cap-and-trade program, two in three Californians say they have very little or no confidence that the state government will use the money wisely,” says Baldassare.

The Institute reports a margin of error on its survey of 2.9 percent for all California adults, 3.2 percent for registered voters, and 3.6 percent for likely voters. A complete copy of the study can be found here.

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