Now you know why the bus is green. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was on the final day of his second bus tour of the general election campaign yesterday as word came of a new Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) Poll giving him a 13-point lead over his Democratic challenger, Treasurer Phil Angelides. The poll was primarily about environmental issues and showed that Schwarzenegger has made great strides in public perception since a similar poll in February showed him standing no higher in public estimation on the environment than unpopular President George W. Bush.
Which had been quite remarkable, because the governor has a very pro-environmental record for a Republican, much more so than Bush. The Sierra Nevada mountain conservancy, ocean protection, global warming, offshore oil drilling, renewable energy, all areas in which Schwarzenegger’s administration had moved in ways unlike other Republican administrations. Yet just five months ago, he was viewed by Californians, according to the PPIC poll released on February 23rd, as about the same as Bush on the environment. Which disappointed Schwarzenegger and his people.
Indeed, as I wrote then, Schwarzenegger had enacted the biggest solar energy program in history just the month before. Yet none of that had connected with the public, in large part because his previous group discouraged much public airing of his environmental views.
A top Democratic advisor, who wished the governor no good fortune, marveled in February at this vaunted communicator’s “failure to communicate.” His team, said the strategist, “and he need to do what Gray Davis did on the Democratic side, emphasize what makes him different as a Republican. Not as a fake Democrat like they’re doing now, but different as a Republican. Like Gray did constantly playing up his Vietnam War service and support for the death penalty. The environment is that thing for Schwarzenegger. I won’t say this publicly, but he has good policies there. But if he doesn’t keep reminding Californians, they don’t know. He thinks because he’s famous and he says something everybody pays attention and remembers. Well, they don’t. They’ve seen the act and nobody is hanging on his every word.”
That, of course, is precisely what Team Arnold did do, play up the environment. In a ramped up schedule of events as governor, including a high-profile global warming summit in San Francisco, and in TV advertising, including two ads running around the state right now. As a result, Schwarzenegger has gained strength and credibility in the issue area, which he is using effectively to differentiate himself from Bush.
Schwarzenegger leads Angelides in the new PPIC Poll, 43% to 30%, with 4% going to veteran Green Party candidate Peter Camejo and 1% each to the Libertarian and American Independent candidates.
The numbers are a little different from the Field Poll and the credible private polls on both sides of the partisan aisle, for two reasons. First, PPIC does not do a push question at this stage of the campaign. Second, the minor party candidates are included, something which Field and most of the other pollsters are not doing.
The PPIC Poll is primarily about the environment, not the political horse race. There it shows very strong public support for measures to combat global warming — which well over 60% of likely voters believe is well underway — and air pollution, and to promote renewable power development and energy efficiency. Schwarzenegger’s job approval rating is up to 49% among likely voters, as in the Field Poll.
Schwarzenegger’s numbers on the environment have come up sharply from their previous Bush-like levels. But that means that Schwarzenegger’s approval ratings for handling environmental issues are somewhat mixed. 44% approve of his performance on the environment, 36% disapprove, and 20% don’t know. And, notwithstanding the governor’s big push on renewable energy, views of his energy policy are split, with 40% approving, 38% disapproving, and 22% unsure.
It’s fortunate for the former action superstar that the long heat storm has ended without rolling blackouts.
Still, he has made tremendous strides in this area and as a result is well-positioned for re-election.