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USC Dornsife/LA Times poll: Californians back plastic grocery bag ban

Even when prompted about potential costs and government overreach, a strong majority of Californians would not overturn the ban

Plastic Bag
By a wide margin, Californians support the state's upcoming ban on plastic grocery bags. (Photo from

By a nearly 2-to-1 margin, California voters support a recent statewide law banning disposable plastic grocery bags at supermarkets, according to the latest USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll.

Six in 10 Californians said they support the ban, which also requires grocery stores to offer paper or other reusable bags for 10 cents each. Thirty-five percent of voters oppose the law, the poll showed.

Voters were then read arguments made by both supporters and opponents of the law – opponents stating that the ban constitutes a hidden tax and is another example of government overreach, and proponents stating that the ban will reduce pollution and protect wildlife, the environment and people’s health.

After being read those statements, 59 percent of California voters said they would uphold the plastic bag ban if it were put to a vote, as opposed to 34 percent of voters who said they would vote to overturn the law, according to the poll. Forty-nine percent of voters said they felt “strongly” about upholding the law.

When asked to pick their biggest concern about the ban, 43 percent of Californians said that the law was “just more government regulation and overreach”; 19 percent said the law puts a hidden tax on people; and 18 percent said the law could cost the state jobs.

“This is the same challenge that caused Republicans in Congress to change their message on Obamacare from ‘repeal’ to ‘replace,’” said Dan Schnur, director of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll and executive director of the Unruh Institute of Politics of USC. “It’s always more difficult to convince voters to undo something that’s already been done than to try something new. It’s an uphill fight for the ban’s opponents, so they’ll need to take a general argument about government overreach and sharpen it into a more specific fight about taxes.”

Watch Matt Rodriguez, USC Unruh Institute Fellow and Democratic strategist, discuss the poll results:

Plastic bag bans already a way of life for many

More than half of voters, 52 percent, said their communities already ban disposable plastic grocery bags at supermarkets and grocery stores, with 44 percent who said their cities did not currently have a ban in place.
Voters whose communities had already instituted plastic bag bans were more likely to support the statewide ban, with 69 percent in favor and 28 percent opposed. Voters whose communities had not instituted a similar ban favored the ban by a slimmer margin, 52-43.

“People who have already been exposed to a bag ban adjust to it and like it, and people who haven’t been exposed to it don’t find it egregious or believe it will have a negative impact on their life,” said David Kanevsky, vice president of Republican polling firm American Viewpoint, part of the bipartisan team with Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.

While Democrats were overwhelmingly in favor of the statewide ban 71-25, Republicans opposed it by a smaller margin, with 39 percent in favor and 53 percent opposed. Even in more traditionally conservative areas such as the Central Valley, voters favor the statewide bag ban 52-42. In the Southern California area minus more liberal Los Angeles County, voters favored the ban 54-41.

‘Something that people like’

“At this point, it doesn’t look like there’s much to say to change people’s minds,” said Drew Lieberman, vice president of Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. “I think this is something that people like, they adjust to pretty quickly, and would have a tough time going back.”

The poll, the largest statewide survey of registered voters, sampled 1,537 California voters from Oct. 22-29, 2014, and includes a significant oversample of Latino voters as well as one of the most robust cell phone samples in the state. The survey was conducted by Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Republican polling firm American Viewpoint, and has a margin of error of +/- 2.9 percentage points.

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USC Dornsife/LA Times poll: Californians back plastic grocery bag ban

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