SACRAMENTO — Californians overwhelmingly believe global warming is a serious threat but are unimpressed with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's six-month, highly publicized international campaign on the problem, a poll released Wednesday shows.

Instead, Californians want more progress to protect the environment and say they are willing to pay for it, but have been disappointed so far this year, according to the survey by the San Francisco-based Public Policy Institute of California.

As a result, the governor's ratings have slipped six points on overall job performance since January, when he signed an executive order to curb greenhouse gas emissions, and have dropped eight points on how he's handling environmental issues.

Schwarzenegger, with 52 percent backing for his overall job performance, barely retains majority approval.

The governor's scorecard on the environment — while he's recruiting other states and nations to match California's emission reduction goals — has dropped from a majority, 55 percent, to a minority, 47 percent.

PPIC President Mark Baldassare attributed much of Schwarzenegger's declines to a concerned, disappointed public.

"Actions speak louder than words," Baldassare said. "The governor has been promoting an important cause worldwide, but Californians want to see more action.

"Last year, the governor and lawmakers made lots of progress on issues such as global warming and there was excitement they'd be building on that this year," he added. "Instead, they're seeing Republicans and Democrats going back to their corners."

Baldassare and analysts said Schwarzenegger's "green" credentials also have recently been put to the test.

They attribute the governor's environment-rating decline, in part, to recent hits his image has taken on misused "flex-fuel" cars — reported by MediaNews — and controversial Air Resources Board decisions.

Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear discounted the poll, saying California has earned a "reputation as a leader on combating climate change" and that its programs "are being replicated all over the world."

"The governor will continue his leadership on this issue to ensure that California remains the worldwide leader on protecting the environment," McLear said.

Tim Hodson, director of the Center for California Studies at California State University, Sacramento, said the governor should not be blamed for not satisfying "unreasonable expectations" from an "impatient society."

"Global warming and other environmental problems defy quick solutions," Hodson said. "Progress is made over years and decades."

But David McCuan, a political science professor at Sonoma State University, suggested the poll reflected a public that was seeing through what had become a political gimmick, used by other politicians in the past.

"Schwarzenegger was looking for alternative sources of political capital and a higher profile through the lens of green initiatives," McCuan said. "The more things change in Sacramento, the more they remain the same."

Gains from the governor's international quest to promote California's global warming fight were also eroded by controversies, said Melissa Michelson, a political science professor at Cal State East Bay in Hayward.

"Schwarzenegger's credibility on environmental issues took a big hit earlier this month when it was revealed that the state had paid millions of dollars for a fleet of flex-fuel cars that were actually running on gasoline instead of ethanol, creating even more pollution than the state's old cars," Michelson said.

"This made it look like his environmentalism was all hot air, and no substance. Add to this the suggestion that the policy for buying the fleet was changed to benefit General Motors, a long-time Schwarzenegger supporter, and for many Californians, they see sleazy politics as usual," she said.

Baldassare said he was surprised by a broad indication that Californians were ready to pay more — for everything from cars to groceries — to reduce air pollution. 

"We have to wonder about the gap between behavior and poll results," said Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College. "It's easy to tell a pollster that you're willing to sacrifice for a cleaner environment. But it's harder to do it."

The telephone survey of

2,500 Californians was conducted from June 28 to July 15. The margin of error is plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Contact Steve Geissinger at sgeissinger@angnewspapers.com or (916) 447-9302.