Californians And Their Drought: New Poll

California voters feel increasingly squeezed by their drought, according to a new USC Donrslife/Los Angeles Times poll.

September 11, 2015 — As one of California’s most severe droughts on record continues to worsen, more than one in three state voters say the drought has had a major impact on them and the lives of their families, according to results from the latest USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times Poll.

Thirty-five percent of California voters said the drought has had a major impact, 50 percent said it has had a minor impact, and 14 percent said it has had no impact at all, according to the poll. That’s an increase since last September, when the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll showed 22 percent said the drought had had a major impact and 28 percent said it had no impact at all.

Overall, 92 percent of voters called the drought a “crisis or major problem,” with just 7 percent saying it was “minor or not a problem,” according to the poll. That’s a slight uptick since last September when the 90 percent of voters said the drought was a “crisis or major problem, according to the poll.

“Last year, Californians thought the drought was a problem for the politicans to handle,” said Dan Schnur, director of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll and director of the Unruh Institute of Politics of USC. "This year, it's a daily challenge in our own lives."

Among Latinos, 47 percent said the drought has had a major impact on their lives, the poll showed, with another 40 percent who said it’s had a minor impact.

California voters also strongly believe that the El Niño weather phenomenon forecasted to bring heavy rain this winter help the state’s water shortage and drought: 78 percent said El Niño will help, as opposed to 7 percent who said it will make no difference or make it worse, the poll showed.

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Voters are also increasingly less willing to pay higher water rates and bills to decrease water use, the poll showed.

When asked about a number of potential solutions to address the drought, 58 percent of voters said they would oppose increasing water rates and bills, as opposed to 38 percent who would favor it. In September 2014, voters opposed to raising water rates and bills, 51 to 44.

When asked to choose between two statements, 46 percent said they would be willing to pay higher water bills “to ensure a reliable, long-term water supply,” as opposed to 47 percent who said their water bills “are high enough” and are not willing to pay more to ensure the long-term water supply, the poll showed. In September 2014, the USC Dornsife/LA Times Poll showed 48 percent would pay more as opposed to 41 percent who believed their bills were high enough.

Voters gave high approval marks on water and drought issues to Gov. Jerry Brown – who in April issued an executive order calling for mandatory cuts in urban water use. Fifty percent of voters said they approved of the job being done by Brown on water and the drought, as opposed to 34 percent who said they disapprove. A year ago, the poll showed 39 percent of voters approved and 42 percent disapproved of the job Brown has done on water and the drought.

“Clearly as the state has put in the mandatory measures and implemented Gov. Brown’s policy, people are actually feeling this in their everyday lives. But California may be reaching the end of their rope in terms of the personal sacrifices they are making,” said Drew Lieberman, vice president of Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, part of the bipartisan team with Republican polling firm American Viewpoint that conducted the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll.

Among the policy prescriptions most favored by voters: 95 percent favor both recycling more water and improving the state’s ability to capture storm water; 80 percent said investing in desalinating ocean water to make it suitable for household use; and 69 percent said build new dams and reservoirs.

But only 53 percent of voters said they favored requiring farmers and the agriculture industry to reduce water use. Voters were also unwilling to suspend environmental regulations that protect fish and wildlife to help address the drought, with 54 percent saying they oppose suspending environmental regulations and 42 percent saying they would favor it.

“Voters seem to have decided that they’re doing their share, there are other things that need to be done to impact the drought but it doesn’t need to affect the state’s other policy priorities,” Schnur said. “Voters are clearly concerned about the drought but tend to see it in isolation and not related to the state’s other policy challenges.”

When asked to choose between a pair of statements, 50 percent of voters said California should protect the environment, even if it hurts the water supply, as opposed to 34 percent who said the state should ensure the water supply even at the expense of the environment. In September 2014, 46 percent of voters said California should protect the environment and 37 percent said the state should ensure the water supply even if it harms the environment.

Californians were slightly opposed to allowing the government to impose fines of up to $10,000 for violations of water conservation rules, with 44 percent in favor and 49 percent opposed.

What (or who) is to blame for the drought?

When asked which factors were most to blame for California’s water supply problems, 90 percent said “not enough snow and rain,” followed by old delivery systems and not enough water storage (79%); Californians using too much water (78%); too much growth and development (72%); global climate change (69%); and environmental regulations (67%).

Sixty-five percent of voters said they blamed the agricultural industry, up from 54 percent a year ago, the poll showed. Support for requiring farmers to decrease water use jumped 16 percentage points over the September 2014 USC Dornsife/LA Times poll.

Latino voters were more likely than white voters to blame global climate change (76-65) and environmental regulations (76-62) for the state’s water supply problems.

“Given that a lot of these voters feel they’ve already made sacrifices, if other people had to take a further pinch they’d rather it be someone other than them. The agriculture industry is an easy victim to choose,” said David Kanevsky, research director of Republican polling firm American Viewpoint.

The latest USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll, the largest statewide survey of registered voters, was conducted Aug. 29 – Sept. 8 and includes a significant oversample of Latino voters as well as one of the most robust cell phone samples in the state. The full sample of 1,500 registered voters has a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percentage points.

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