The newly hatched PPIC poll on the environment indicates Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman’s middle path related to California’s greenhouse gases law and a controversial November ballot measure could serve her well come Election Day.

Proposition 23 would suspend California’s greenhouse gases law (AB 32) until unemployment dropped to 5.5% for four consecutive quarters. California’s unemployment rate now stands over 12%.

PPIC pollsters did not ask a question about Proposition 23 using specific ballot language. PPIC found that likely voters supported the idea behind AB 32 to reduce greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2020, 61% to 28%. Without the ballot title, PPIC asked a general follow-up question whether the state government should act right away to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or wait until the state economy and job situation improve. Likely voters split down the middle on the question with 48% support to move ahead right away; 48% voted to wait.

The first thing to note is that the campaign for and against Proposition 23 is not in full swing. Supporters of the measure will deliver a message of job loss that the poll indicates voters don’t buy at this point. Opponents of the measure will appeal to Californians’ environmental sensitivities in attempting to kill the measure while promoting green jobs.

The second thing to consider is that the proposition, itself, was not tested in the PPIC poll, simply a broad concept. In fact, the final title and ballot label of the measure is uncertain as proponents went to court challenging the wording of the title and ballot label.

According to the poll results, there is no denying that California voters, as a whole, still attach importance to the environment.

Which makes Whitman’s consistent stance on AB 32 potentially politically strong. She has not offered her support for the ballot proposition, which would suspend the greenhouse gases law for an indeterminate period of time — no one knows how long it will take to lower California’s unemployment mark to 5.5% and keep it there for four quarters.

Instead, Whitman is suggesting that California postpone the law for one year. Take a breath, step back and try to understand the effect of the law while allowing the economy some time to recover.

In the heat of a political campaign over the effects of the law on both the environment and the job market, Californians may see Whitman’s middle path a smart way to travel.