A Climate Campaign?

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Photo: Getty Images

If you're a backer of Jerry Brown's gubernatorial campaign and you read tonight's new statewide poll, you've got to be saying to yourself: can he make this campaign about climate change?

Okay, maybe not a campaign exclusively about the issue. But the poll certainly could be used to make a case that Meg Whitman comes down on the issue -- specifically, the state's landmark law -- somewhere differently than the voters she'll need to win over on November 2.

While the poll from the Public Policy Institute of California is focused broadly on how Californians feel about a range of environmental issues -- air pollution, oil drilling, nuclear power -- climate change is a featured element (see the posting from my KQED colleagues on our ClimateWatch blog). And the survey links the debate over global warming to the quickly warming up race for governor.

First, the horserace stats. PPIC finds Brown ahead of Whitman, 37%-34%. Notice, though, the large number of undecideds when asked that question -- 23%. The 'don't know' response is even higher among independent voters -- 30%.

Now, on to climate issues. 67% of all Californians polled (61% of likely voters) say they support the 2006 landmark state law that mandates big reductions in greenhouse gases, AB 32. Among independents, it's 73% (only Republicans oppose the law).

So obvious political lesson number one: don't be opposed to AB 32.

Photo: Getty Images

Meg Whitman has carefully avoided taking that specific position, but she's nonetheless raised numerous concerns about the law. She's also pledged, if elected, to exercise a provision in it that would suspend implementation if "extraordinary circumstances" (like an economic crisis) merit such action. Jerry Brown has not endorsed a suspension, nor has the man who's signature is actually on the law, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

As I reported earlier this month, Whitman has toned down her primary season rhetoric on AB 32. Once saying that California "cannot afford" the economic disaster predicted by some of the law, Whitman's campaign brochure now says we don't know "the true impact of the law’s implementation on our state’s economy."

Now back to the poll, and a question directly on point:

Do you think that California doing things to reduce global warming in the future would cause there to be more jobs for people around the state, would cause there to be fewer jobs, or wouldn't affect the number of jobs for people around the state?

Most of those surveyed aren't as pessimistic as Whitman seemed during the GOP primary. 43% of likely voters say California's efforts would create more jobs, and 21% say there would be no impact. That's 64% of all likely voters who seem to be much less worried than the Republican nominee, at least in her many statements early in the campaign. Only 28% said the state's efforts would lead to fewer jobs.

Add to that another question asked by PPIC: are we doing enough on the state government level to stop climate change? 43% said no, we're not. 50% of independents said we're not doing enough.

And then, in a broader sense, the survey asked about the nexus -- if any -- between voter preferences in the gubernatorial clash and the candidates' positions on the environment:

Of those who say candidates' environmental positions are very important in determining their vote, half favor Brown and only 16 percent favor Whitman. Whitman is favored among those who consider candidates' environment positions somewhat important.

To be fair, none of this means that Jerry Brown can run a one issue campaign -- climate change -- and win (as proof, the Democrat is starting to trickle out other policy positions, like one earlier today on education).

But the issue will nonetheless be prominent, says PPIC's pollster Mark Baldassare. "People will be looking at the candidate’s position on climate change," he says. "The fact that Governor Schwarzenegger... was involved in climate change legislation [and] re-elected by a landslide margin... I think speaks volumes to the importance that voters hold environmental issues."

Photo: Getty Images

But keep in mind, too, that this isn't just going to be an academic discussion this fall. Proposition 23 will make sure of that.

The initiative, if passed, would suspend the climate change law... perhaps indefinitely. And so AB 32 may be a constant sub-narrative in the governor's race, especially with Schwarzenegger throwing a lot of his own energy and resources into defending what he sees as a cornerstone to his political legacy.

Whether Brown can push the point in his daily combat against Whitman remains to be seen; it's worth noting that she has never taken an official position on Prop 23... though you can bet she's going to keep getting asked that question.

A lot.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.
  • EarlRichards

    The California Jobs Initiative (CJI) is an oil corporation farce and fraud. There is no connection, whatsoever, between greenhouse gas emission reduction and the loss of jobs. This notion is an insult to the intelligence of the people of California. In fact, there is job growth in the clean, renewable energy industry. Chevron employs 65,000 worldwide and CJI is not going to change this. The only jobs created by the oil industry are clean-up jobs after oil spills and deep water, blow-outs and pump-handler jobs. CJI will make fantastic profits for the oil industry, increase air pollution, especially in communities around their refineries, and there will not be lower gas prices.