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Californians Critical of Bush's Handling of Energy

Californians Critical of Bush's Handling of Energy

by Jeffrey M. Jones and Joseph Carroll


PRINCETON, NJ -- President George W. Bush and California Governor Gray Davis met yesterday to discuss the state's energy problems. Since electricity was deregulated, California has become a national focal point of energy concerns as prices have skyrocketed and electricity shortages have forced rolling blackouts. Davis is asking for a price cap on electricity that the Bush administration has thus far refused to approve. The president has agreed to provide additional federal aid to low income families in California to help them pay their utility bills.

Californians, who strongly supported Al Gore in last November's election (54% to 42% over Bush), are generally critical of the job Bush is doing as president, and give him an approval rating of just 41% -- compared to 58% rating in the rest of the nation. This is according to the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll of the nation's adults, conducted May 18-20. (California represents a large enough part of the total U.S. that it is possible to break the state out separately in poll analysis, and to compare it to the rest of the country excluding Calfornia). The same seventeen-point deficit can be found in approval ratings of Bush's handling of the energy issue, which stand at 25% in California and 42% outside of California. (Californians rated Bush an average of 11 points lower on several issues aside from energy.)

Bush recently announced the details of the new national energy plan developed by his administration, which calls for increasing domestic supplies of oil, gas and coal and boosting production of electric and nuclear power, as well as providing tax incentives for buying fuel-efficient cars and energy efficient homes. While non-Californians are essentially divided in their reaction to the plan (44% favor and 41% oppose), Californians oppose it by a 53% to 37% margin. This opposition may be due to the fact that the plan takes a long-term approach to fixing the nation's energy problems. Indeed, majorities of Californians and non-Californians alike believe the plan will help solve the country's energy problems, but only after several years. California residents' interest in seeing more immediate remedies is evident in the 68% who say that Bush is not doing enough to solve the country's energy problems. Somewhat fewer non-California residents (54%) feel this way.

Californians See Lack of Energy Sources as Most Important Problem, Blame Electric Companies

According to a May 10-14 Gallup poll, all Americans place energy concerns at or near the top of the list of most important problems facing the nation, but concern about specific energy-related issues differs in and outside of California. Twenty-six percent of Californians cite a lack of energy sources as the most important problem facing the country, putting it well ahead of fuel and oil prices (8%), which is the second ranked energy concern. By contrast, lack of energy sources is mentioned by only 10% of Americans outside of California, roughly equal to the percentage who mention oil or fuel prices. Thus, while among Californians energy is the leading perceived problem, elsewhere it ties with the economy as the top issue of concern.


Most Important Problem


Outside California





Lack of energy sources



Fuel/oil prices



Economy (general)



The recent Gallup poll also asked Americans who they believed deserves blame for the country's current energy problems. The poll finds intriguing differences between Californians and Americans in the rest of the country. Californians are much more likely to blame U.S. electric companies for the current energy problems than are citizens in the rest of the nation -- 63% of California residents think electric companies deserve a "great deal of blame" as do only 40% of non-California residents. Californians (53%) and non-Californians (52%) differ very little in their perceptions of how much U.S. oil companies are to blame for the current energy problems.

Californians are slightly more likely to blame the current Bush administration (26%) for the energy problems in the nation than are non-California residents (19%), and they also assign less blame to the Clinton administration (20%) than do residents of the other states (29%). Interestingly, Californians (13%) are less apt than non-Californians (23%) to say that American consumers deserve a great deal of blame for the country's energy problems.

Californians and non-Californians Agree on Need for Conservation

Gallup polls conducted throughout the month of May find that people across the country -- those living in California and those outside California -- share similar views about production versus conservation and the impact the energy problems will have on the American lifestyle. A May 7-9, 2001 Gallup poll showed no difference between Californians and non-Californians as to whether the country should emphasize more conservation of existing energy supplies or emphasize more production of oil, gas, and coal supplies. Similarly, a May 18-20 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll finds majorities of Californians (65%) and non-Californians (67%) saying that Americans must make real changes in their lifestyle in order for the country's current energy problems to be solved. Roughly one-third of Americans residing in California (30%), as well as a third of those residing elsewhere in the nation (33%), feel that Americans can retain their lifestyle and can still solve the country's current energy problems.

Survey Methods

The results below are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,010 adults, 18 years and older, conducted May 18-20, 2001, including 105 California residents. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. For results based on the California sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 11 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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