USC-LA Times poll: Californians spread blame around for water woes

A fall 2015 poll by USC and the Los Angeles Times found that 35% of state residents felt the drought was having a “major impact” on their family, while half said it was having a “minor impact.”

la times poll drought impact

The poll also asked Californians about the roots of the state’s water problems and found a wide range of culprits beyond the obvious lack of precipitation. Two-thirds or more of Californians said the following factors were very or somewhat responsible for the state’s water supply problems: old infrastructure, poor water conservation habits, too much growth, climate change, environmental regulations, and California’s agriculture industry.

la times poll water blame

The poll of 1,500 registered voters was conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, in conjunction with American Viewpoint. The overall margin of error was +/- 2.9 percentage points.

Support for diverse solutions

California voters not only assigned blame for the state’s water woes to a variety of actors and institutions but also favored a diverse set of solutions, including conservation, recycling water, capturing runoff, desalination of ocean water, and building new dams and reservoirs.

“The least favored approaches were increasing water rates to encourage conservation, supported by 38% compared with 44% a year ago, and suspending environmental protections for fish and wildlife, advocated by 42% compared with 36% a year ago,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

“Voters are looking for all of the above solutions as long as all of the above solutions do not raise costs for them personally,” Republican pollster David Kanevsky of American Viewpoint told the Los Angeles Times. “Given all the investments they want to make to ensure long-term water supply, the job for elected officials is to understand the investments in essence will raise costs.”

Compared to previous polling, this survey found increasing backlash against agriculture. The share of voters favoring that farmers be forced to reduce their water use rose from 53% from 37%. Pollster Drew Lieberman described that shift as “huge,” adding “People are now in a place where they look around and say we’re doing our part.… It doesn’t necessarily look like there’s an end in sight, and it’s time for other people to step up.”


Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research has made additional data available and archived new stories that appeared after the poll’s release. In a future post, I’d like to dig deeper into the data, including comparisons of white and Latino views on California water. aggregates, analyzes, and visualizes public opinion data on water-related issues. Stay informed via Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, RSS, and email.