Brown has spent most of 2015 attempting to use the crisis of the drought as a defense of California's aggressive climate laws, and the polling suggests it's in line with the citizenry. Sixty-four percent of adults in the new poll say the overall warming of the planet has contributed to California's lack of water, and 84 percent say they are somewhat or very concerned about the possibility of even more severe droughts.
It remains to be seen whether the governor will succeed in his attempt to link those fears to public and political acceptance of his effort to rejigger California's water supply system -- highlighted by plans for twin underground water tunnels around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. But his fellow Democrats in the California Legislature have other goals in mind, and the new survey offers them some possible momentum.
Asked whether those surveyed support the idea of cutting California's 1990-measured greenhouse gases by 80 percent over the next 3½ decades, the answer is yes: 69 percent like that idea. The proposal is now under consideration in the Legislature, one of a package of ambitious climate change bills being pushed by Democrats in the state Senate.
That package, sure to be one of the most-watched sets of bills when legislators return in August from the summer recess, gets a lot of love in the new PPIC poll. Its centerpiece is Senate Bill 350, an aggressive mandate of 50 percent less petroleum use in cars, 50 percent more renewable energy, and a doubling of energy efficiency in existing buildings, all in just 15 years.
These proposals were outlined by Brown in his January State of the State speech, and the new poll finds strong support for all three -- between seven and eight in 10 of all adults for each proposal.
But the politics of these proposals, of this plan, are far from settled. The poll comes just two days after the oil industry launched an aggressive campaign to recast the bill -- especially its mandate of less gas for cars -- as a disaster of another kind.
"If you can afford a Tesla, then this message won't really matter to you," says the spokesperson in the very first words uttered in the TV ad -- a not-so-subtle jab at class and wealth issues in an election season in which those distinctions will be talked about a lot, especially by Democrats.
The ad is sponsored by the California Drivers Alliance, an advocacy group bankrolled by the state's oil and gas industry.
Other critics accuse California Democrats of selling out their traditional base support in working-poor communities for "a policy of environmental puritanism," as writer Joel Kotkin opined just hours before the new poll was released.
Kotkin took particular aim at the legislative champion of the new climate change agenda, Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles):
So how does de León's priority on climate change help his two-thirds-Latino district, where a quarter of households were under the poverty line in 2014 and nearly half of all households earned less than $34,000?... Unless you fear that rising seas will flood the eastern parts of Los Angeles in the near future, a radically decarbonized economy offers limited benefits to a district where 40 percent of residents don’t have even high school degrees and that is unlikely to emerge soon as a software engineering hotbed or a center of media or finance.
Nonetheless, the new polling suggests that the starting point of the debate is in favor of Democrats on these issues.
When examining the various subgroups of Californians surveyed, there's strong support for the three essential components of de León's SB350. Even 63 percent of Republicans surveyed support the expansion of renewable energy. And contrary to the assertions in the oil industry ad, 81 percent of the state's lowest-income residents in the PPIC survey -- those making under $40,000 a year -- support the idea of cutting petroleum use.
The question then may be whether the state's most prominent proponent of the effort to build on existing law -- Brown -- can beat back any kind of vocal and well-funded opposition in the weeks and months to come.
PPIC's new poll shows the governor gets good marks for his job performance from 53 percent of Californians surveyed, and 55 percent of the all-important likely voters. But his handling of environmental issues, the poll finds, is a little less popular: 47 percent of all adults, 48 percent of likely voters.
The TV ad from the oil industry, in particular, is a sign that these poll numbers matter. Whether it's a shot across the bow for legislators and Brown as they negotiate on a final plan, or a harbinger of a 2016 political campaign to come, remains to be seen. After all, the oil industry could, more easily than at any time in decades, qualify a referendum to try and overturn the new climate change law next November.