Support drops for nuclear power in California, poll shows

SACRAMENTO — Californians' support for building more nuclear power plants has eroded since Japan's nuclear crisis, with less than one-third of adults now in favor, according to a poll released Wednesday.

The survey by the Public Policy Institute of California found 65 percent of adults oppose more nuclear plants while 30 percent are in favor. The number supporting more nuclear power dropped 14 percentage points from the same poll a year ago and marks the lowest level of support since the institute began asking the question in 2001.

Meanwhile, support for oil drilling off California's coast increased 12 percentage points in the last year as gasoline prices rose and memories have dimmed of the disastrous BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Of those surveyed, 46 percent backed more offshore drilling, up from 34 percent a year ago when workers finally capped the Gulf oil well.

The poll found a partisan and geographic split, with twice as many Republicans as Democrats in favor of drilling. Fifty-four percent of inland residents supported seeking more offshore oil, compared with 42 percent who live along the coast.

"A year has passed, and attention has now focused on the failure of the nuclear power plant and less attention on the offshore oil problems," said Mark Baldassare, the institute's president and chief executive officer. "We're talking about energy proposals that can swing within a range, and are subject to a wide partisan divide in which Democrats are much more likely to oppose than Republicans."

By comparison, Baldassare said support for increasing renewable energy and fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles has remained consistently high across political, regional and demographic boundaries.Overall, the poll found 84 percent supported raising fuel economy standards, including 90 percent of Democrats, 81 percent of independents and 76 percent of Republicans.

Similarly, 80 percent backed more federal money to develop renewable energy from the sun, wind and hydrogen, with support spanning party, regional and demographic lines.

Nearly as many — 77 percent — favored California's requirement that one-third of the state's electric power come from renewable sources by 2020. But support dropped to 46 percent when residents were asked if they would still be in favor if it meant an increase in their electricity bills.

"I think that reflects an underlying concern about the economy today and people's financial condition," Baldassare said.

Despite respondents' financial concerns, a majority said the state should not delay its efforts on developing renewable energy sources and believe doing so will create more jobs, he said.

The Public Policy Institute interviewed 2,504 California adults by telephone in six languages from July 5 to 19. The poll has a sampling error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points. Among its other findings:

Most Californians believe climate change threatens the state's future, with 47 percent calling it a very serious threat and 28 percent viewing it as somewhat serious. But there is a partisan split, with 82 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of independents perceiving climate change to be a serious threat, compared with 45 percent of Republicans.

57 percent say the state should take its own steps to combat climate change instead of waiting for the federal government.

61 percent say the effects of climate change already are being felt, up 7 percentage points from a year ago but more in line with findings from earlier years. Another 22 percent say it will begin having an effect sometime in the future, while 12 percent say there will never be an impact.

58 percent think the state should act now to reduce emissions that promote global warming, while 38 percent say the state should wait until the economy improves; 47 percent say the state's efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions will create more jobs, while 23 percent say it will lead to job losses.

Pollsters found a racial split about the perceived dangers of climate change. Fewer than half of whites where very worried, while blacks and Hispanics were more likely to be very concerned about each of the possible effects, including wildfire, drought and increased air pollution.

Blacks and Hispanics also were more likely to perceive regional air pollution as a major problem and to see air quality as worse today than a decade ago.

The racial divide is partly a result of geography, Baldassare said. Air pollution remains California's paramount environmental problem, and it is most pronounced in Los Angeles and the Central Valley, home to many blacks and Latinos. It is also worst in industrial and agricultural areas that have a disproportionate minority population.

Public Policy Institute of California: http://www.ppic.org