REACTIONS TO RISING GAS PRICES: MANY ARE CUTTING BACK ON OTHER SPENDING AND TAKING GAS-SAVING ACTIONS. SUPPORT FOR MAINTAINING STATE’S AUTO EMISSIONS STANDARDS, BUT ALSO EXPANDING NUCLEAR POWER AND LNG FACILITIES. OFFSHORE OIL DRILLING AND DRILLING ON GOVERNMENT LANDS OPPOSED

BY MARK DiCAMILLO and MERVIN FIELD
The Field Poll

The steady unrelenting rise in gasoline prices is seen as an increasingly serious problem in this state and has caused two in three Californians (68%) to cut back on their spending in other areas. Many motorists are employing a variety of gas saving measures, such as driving less (78%), buying lower grades of gasoline (67%), and using their more fuel efficient vehicle (59%). Smaller proportions also say they are carpooling more (28%), employees are taking jobs closer to their home or moving closer to their worksite (28%) or adjusting work hours so they are not commuting to the worksite as often (25%). Others report having replaced a car or truck with a more fuel-efficient vehicle (27%), and 17% say they are using public transportation more.

While Californians support a number of energy production measures, including building more nuclear power plants (50% to 41%) and facilities for liquefied natural gas (63% to 19%) in California, by a 70% to 23% margin voters also want the state’s auto emissions standards to be maintained. In addition, voters oppose more offshore oil drilling (51% to 43%) or allowing drilling on government lands (52% to 44%).

These are the main findings from a new statewide Field Poll completed among a representative sample of 809 California registered voters this week.

Seriousness of recent gasoline price increases

The proportion of Californians who describe the recent gasoline price increases as “very serious” has increased from 32% in 2005 to 35% last year to 47% at the present time. Another 34% of voters now say the situation is somewhat serious. Just 19% believe the situation is not serious.
Lower income voters, Latinos, African-Americans and voters living in inland counties are more likely than others to describe the gasoline price situation as very serious.

Cut backs in other spending areas

Two in three voters (68%) say recent gas price increases have caused them to cut back in other areas of spending, such as food, clothing and dining out. This is up from 44% who reported cutting back when facing gas price increases last year and 40% said this in 2005.
The segments of voters who are the most likely to report having cut back in other areas of spending are lower income voters, Latinos, African-Americans, voters living in inland counties, and women.

How Californians are saving on gasoline expenses

Californians are doing a number of things to try and save on gasoline expenses. The survey finds that three in four (78%) are now driving less around town or shortening weekend or vacation trips. This is up from 59% who said this in August 2005 following a spike in gasoline prices at that time.

Another two in three (67%) say they are now buying a cheaper grade of gasoline, while another 59% report driving their more fuel efficient vehicle to a greater extent to save on gas.

Somewhat smaller proportions also report taking the following steps to reduce their gasoline consumption:

• Car pooling more to and from work or to shop (28%), up from 20% in 2005.
• Workers reporting taking jobs closer to their home or have moved closer to their worksite (28%).
• Replacing a car or truck with a more fuel efficient vehicle (27%).
• Workers adjusting work hours so they are not commuting to their worksite as often (25%).
• 17% report using public transportation more often, up from 13% who said this in 2005.

Mixed views about energy policy proposals

Californians hold mixed views about various energy policies now being debated in Sacramento and Washington.

Majorities favor several energy expansion proposals to increase energy production and supply. These include building tanker terminals, pipelines and facilities for liquefied natural gas, supported by a 63% to 19% margin, and building more nuclear power plants in the state, endorsed by a 50% to 41% margin.

On the other hand, seven in ten (70%) favor maintaining California’s emissions standards even if this means getting slightly fewer miles per gallon.

In addition, more voters in this state remain opposed to the idea of allowing oil companies to drill more oil and gas wells along the California coast. However the current margin of opposition (51% opposed vs. 43% in favor) is less than it was in the three previous Field Poll surveys conducted since 1990.

Opposition has also weakened regarding the idea of relaxing restrictions prohibiting the drilling of oil and gas wells on government parklands and forest reserves. At present 52% of voters oppose this idea, while 44% are in favor, This compares to higher levels of opposition in previous Field Polls conducted since 1984.

There are big partisan differences in voter opinions with regard to most, but not all, of these issues. For example, large majorities of Democrats and non-partisans oppose allowing oil companies to drill more offshore oil and gas wells and also object to relaxing restrictions prohibiting oil drilling on government parklands and forest preserves. By contrast, Republicans back both of these proposals by a greater than two to one margin.

Support for building of more nuclear power plants in California also divides voters along party lines. Republicans support this policy by a greater than three to one margin, while a plurality of Democrats are opposed. Non-partisans are supportive but by a narrow margin.

On two of the other energy issues, majorities of Democrats, Republicans and non-partisans are in agreement. These include maintaining the state’s auto emissions standards, even if this results in slightly fewer miles per gallon of gasoline and building more liquefied natural gas facilities in California.

See Related: THE FIELD POLL

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