California's landmark global-warming bill was a white-hot topic in the 2010 governor's race and remains former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's signature environmental achievement.
But as the state prepares to unroll the law's cap-and-trade program in November with the first state auctions of emissions permits, a new poll finds that 57 percent of Californians say they have never heard anything about the program.
The statewide poll by the Public Policy Institute of California further found that 30 percent of respondents said they had heard "a little," while just 12 percent said they had heard "a lot."
"Cap-and-trade is a very complicated issue to the average Californian," said Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of the PPIC. "It's not something that has been at the center of attention for them. Connecting the dots between cap-and-trade and global warming continues to be a challenge for policy makers."
The cap-and-trade program sets lower limits on companies' greenhouse gas emissions and allows those who emit less than their cap to sell permits to those who exceed their limits.
The issues of climate change and energy policy have been largely absent in the presidential election, which has been dominated by the economy. But those issues remain important to Golden State voters: Seven in 10 likely voters in California say that the candidates' positions on global warming and energy policy are important in determining their vote, according to the new poll. Thirty percent said the issue is very important, while 42 percent said it's somewhat important.
By a 54 percent to 33 percent margin, majorities of likely voters say they trust President Barack Obama more than Republican challenger Mitt Romney to handle global warming and energy policy. But among the 1,131 likely voters surveyed on the question of overall preference for president, Obama's margin over Romney was only 11 percentage points: 51 percent to 40 percent. That's far tighter than four years ago, when Obama carried California by a stunning 24 points.
But likely voters' preference for Obama on global warming and energy policy does not translate to support for his overall handling of environmental issues. Likely voters are split, with 46 percent approving and 46 percent disapproving of his handling of environmental issues.
"California voters have high standards when it comes to the environment," Baldassare said. "They trust Obama more than Romney, but they don't feel Obama has done enough. A lot of enthusiasm for Obama has faded, particularly in the environmental arena."
Asked to assess what government is doing to address global warming, 53 percent of likely voters say the federal government is not doing enough, while 23 percent say it is doing just enough; 21 percent say it is doing more than enough.
Nearly eight in 10 Californians believe the world's temperature has been going up over the past 100 years, and 45 percent consider global warming a very serious threat to California's future.
A political battle is brewing in Sacramento over how the state, which expects to generate anywhere from $2 billion to $14 billion annually in new revenues from the permit auctions, will spend the money.
The PPIC poll found that 65 percent of Californians have very little or no confidence in the state to spend money generated from the program wisely.
Some members of the adminstration of Gov. Jerry Brown and the California High-Speed Rail Authority would like to use the new revenue to make up for expected shortfalls in the $63 billion bullet-train project. The train, which would link San Francisco and Los Angeles, recently got the green light from the Legislature and Brown.
The Public Policy Institute of California surveyed 2,500 adults from July 10—24. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.9 percentage points -- 3.6 percentage points for the 1,131 likely voters.
Contact Dana Hull at 408-920-2706. Follow her at Twitter.com/danahull.