How’s the increasing scepticism going to play?
One of David Cameronâ€™s early acts in detoxifying the Conservative brand was the increased focus on the environment and combating climate change. That was in a different, pre-recession world and the legacy of those policy decisions could be about to cause the Tory leadership problems.
The BBC-commissioned Populus poll reports a significant shift in public attitudes on climate change, with the proportion who donâ€™t think global warming is taking place having increased from 15% to 25% since November 2009. The share who believe it is happening and is largely man-made has fallen from 41% to just 26% in the same timeframe.
All the main political partiesâ€™ leaderships are committed to tackling climate change but the question is now whether at least some of them are getting out of step with the voters – in particular, their voters?
Annoyingly for us, there was no voting intention question asked, meaning that we donâ€™t know how different partiesâ€™ voters see the issue. When the Times commissioned the November poll, Populus did ask a voting intention question and while 45% and 47% of Labour and Lib Dem supporters respectively accepted climate change as predominantly manmade, the only 38% of Tories did. By contrast, 20% of Tories did not accept that it was happening at all, compared to just 12% of both Labour and Lib Dem voters.
The swing to the more sceptical stance is across the board but particularly strong in the older age groups: a demographic both more likely to vote Conservative and more likely to turn out. By contrast, the swing towards scepticism was also heavier in the lower social groups – more traditional Labour territory.
Whatâ€™s caused all this? The BBC article skims over the unusually cold and snowy British winter but it would be surprising if it didnâ€™t have some impact, especially among those who arenâ€™t well versed in the scientific arguments.
The scandals around could also have played a part, though bizarrely, of the 57% who said that theyâ€™ve â€œheard stories of flaws or weaknesses in the science of climate changeâ€, 16% are more convinced now of the risks of climate change compared to just 11% who are less convinced. The vast majority said the stories about e-mails and Himalayan glaciers made no difference.
Does this leave the Tories – and David Cameron in particular – with a problem? Itâ€™s probable that less than a quarter of the Tory vote believe in man-made climate change, while about two-fifths of it either believe itâ€™s not happening at all or is a purely natural phenomenon.
That puts the Conservative policy well out of line with the partyâ€˜s supporters, and will significantly reduce the scope for raising taxes of the back of it.
Thereâ€™s also the much more sceptical UKIP around to appeal to some disenchanted right-wingers. That said, Labour and the Lib Dems are far from in the clear either.
The problem could be a blip in opinion that melts with the winter snow. Even if that is the case, itâ€™s pretty clear that thereâ€™s no widespread and deep public buy-in to climate change theory. Time to change the record and talk about energy security and resource preservation?