Stanford poll shows Californians ready for drought ‘sacrifice’

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When it comes to California’s longstanding drought, citizens are ready for action – both of the policy as well as the personal kind.

On Sept. 29, Stanford’s Hoover Institution released a new survey revealing deep concern within the Golden State’s electorate about California’s historic drought. Ideology and regional affiliations did not matter on most issues. The big takeaway is that California should continue to conserve water and share groundwater resources throughout its neighboring communities while exploring new ideas on how the state manages water.

“The drought is that rare occurrence that affects Californians from all walks of life,” said BILL WHALEN, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and one of the driving forces behind the survey. “The good news in this survey is that voters are open to sharing and sacrifice – even though it might require some skilled salesmanship from the state’s leaders.”

The Hoover Institution’s Golden State Poll was designed in conjunction with Stanford’s Bill Lane Center for the American West and administered by the survey research firm YouGov.

The findings showed that:

  • 54 percent of likely California voters support required water cutbacks, with limits and fines.
  • Only 24 percent preferred no limits, with higher costs per gallon for heavier use.
  • 62 percent of likely voters support required sharing of groundwater supplies.
  • 67 percent supported restrictions on groundwater use.
  • Californians prefer an “all of the above” approach to augmenting water storage: building dams and reservoirs (70 percent of likely voters), desalination (82 percent), more storage in underground aquifers (89 percent), collecting and recycling storm water (91 percent).
  • 53 percent of likely voters overall favored relaxing environmental laws to build water storage and transportation. However, that’s a tougher sell with Democrats (36 percent) than Republicans (76 percent) or independents (65 percent).
  • Opinion was more closely divided on the reduction or elimination of subsidies for farmers’ water, with 49 percent in favor of ending them versus 30 percent opposed. Republicans split 40 percent in favor to 43 percent opposed. Democrats were 56 percent supportive of ending subsidies for farmers while 21 percent were opposed. Among independents, 49 percent were for ending subsidies to 29 percent opposed.

BRUCE CAIN, director of the Bill Lane Center and one of the architects of the poll, suggests that if the drought persists, Californians will support policy changes in water storage and allocation.

“Crisis might present an opening for the much needed compromise that has for so long eluded California’s water politics,” he said.

The survey involved interviews with 1,500 adult (18 and up) Californians who live in the San Francisco Bay Area, Central Valley and Southern California. It was conducted between Aug. 31 and Sept. 11 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

Clifton B. Parker also contributed to this story.