Nearly 64% responded that reform is needed now, about 25% responded no, and 11% weren't sure. The margin of error was plus or minus 5.7%.
Given an opportunity to assign their own reasons for needed reform, 26.6% said government employees are paid too much and about 18% said they cause bankruptcy or problems for cities.
Two-thirds of participants said that public pensions should be structured like the private sector. Even more think the retirement age should be raised, according to the survey.
Three-quarters of participants said they would likely support pension reform if it would save jobs. That statistic on Tuesday struck some Costa Mesa residents as ironic, given, they said, that the self-proclaimed pension reformers on the council are proposing laying off more than 200 city employees.
The move is part of a broad city restructuring plan to align city revenues and expenditures while offloading expensive city pensions, officials said.
Few residents at the City Council study session Tuesday praised the survey, and most took issue with its sampling size.
"It gives us a good overall picture of what voters think. It absolutely does," said Adam Probolsky, the company's chief executive.
He defended the sampling size, saying researchers made sure the demographics of their participants matched the demographics of Orange County in age, gender, political affiliation and race, among other factors.
Probolsky said his firm conducted the survey for the Assn. of California Cities at no charge because pension reform, especially in Costa Mesa, has been in the headlines for months.