Most Californians now favor offshore oil drilling

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - For the first time, a majority of Californians support more drilling for oil off their state’s coast, a poll showed on Thursday, underscoring anxiety caused by high gasoline prices.

An offshore drilling platform is seen in the Black Sea on the West coast off the Crimea in this March 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Handout/Files

But a large majority of Californians also still want a push toward developing alternative energy sources and highly fuel-efficient vehicles.

The poll this month by the Public Policy Institute of California found 51 percent of Californians in favor of expanding offshore drilling, up 10 points from a year earlier.

It was the first time the group has recorded more Californians in favor of offshore drilling than opposed.

Expanded oil drilling has been a political taboo in environmentally conscious California. But the surge in gasoline prices and politics have helped change attitudes, especially among Republicans.

“President Bush has been out there calling for more drilling ... which may be making it more politically acceptable for Republicans to support this,” said Mark Baldassare, chief executive of the Public Policy Institute of California.

Republican White House hopeful John McCain also supports offshore drilling. That may also be playing into its growing appeal for California Republicans, Baldassare said.

Meanwhile, a majority, or 52 percent, of Californians say global warming is a very serious threat to their state, and nearly two-thirds, or 64 percent, say its effects have already begun.

As in the case with offshore drilling, partisanship is fueling concerns about global warming, with nearly seven in 10 Democrats viewing it as a very serious threat versus one in four Republicans.

Meanwhile, the poll found bipartisan support among Californians for alternative energy, with 83 percent backing federal funding for research on renewable energy technologies to produce power from wind, solar and hydrogen sources.

The poll also found bipartisan support for requiring automakers to significantly boost fuel efficiency even if doing so raises the cost of vehicles.

The findings are based on a telephone survey of 2,504 adult Californians interviewed in multiple languages from July 8 to July 22. The poll’s sampling error for its total sample is plus or minus two percentage points.

Reporting by Jim Christie; Editing by David Gregorio