h1

Is the climate issue going to give Dave a headache?

February 6th, 2010

How’s the increasing scepticism going to play?

One of David Cameron’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 don’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 parties’ 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 don’t know how different parties’ 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.

What’s caused all this? The BBC article skims over the unusually cold and snowy British winter but it would be surprising if it didn’t have some impact, especially among those who aren’t well versed in the scientific arguments.

The scandals around could also have played a part, though bizarrely, of the 57% who said that they’ve “heard stories of flaws or weaknesses in the science of climate change”, 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? It’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 it’s not happening at all or is a purely natural phenomenon.

That puts the Conservative policy well out of line with the party‘s supporters, and will significantly reduce the scope for raising taxes of the back of it.

There’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, it’s pretty clear that there’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?

David Herdson