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Perception Gaps

MPs continue to underestimate importance of the environment for voters

23 October 2023

Climate Barometer tracker data over the past 12 months shows that MPs think that the environment has declined in salience for the public. However, this is not mirrored in public opinion data, which continues to show climate and the environment are important to voters…

Worries about the cost of living have loomed so large – for voters and in terms of their dominance in the political discourse – that MPs may assume public concern about climate change has dropped.

One way to read the Conservative Party’s recent rhetorical turn against net zero policies (positioning them as unduly costly) is a calculation that voters don’t care about the environment as much as they actually do, and that anything that can be presented as reducing costs will be popular.

As Ipsos polling from August indicates,  people do worry that currently cannot afford to ‘do more’ to protect the environment – but the importance of climate change hasn’t diminished.

The most popular new policy in Rishi Sunak’s announcement of net zero changes (for Conservative and Labour voters) was an increased government grant for heat pumps – i.e. a policy change that made making a positive environmental choice cheaper.

And polling by the think tank Onward found that green policies were ranked last in a list of potential causes of the cost-of-living crisis.

When asked, only 17% of MPs think that the environment is a top issue for the public, but this is not mirrored in public opinion data, which consistently shows the environment polling higher. In our most recent round of polling, ‘the environment’ was selected as a top 3 issue by 26% of the public.

The latest from the Perception Gaps timeline:

From the Climate Community 22nd February 2024

Video: People want climate action so why don’t politicians get it?

Climate Barometer’s Adam Corner created a short video talking about perception gaps, in collaboration with ‘Need to Know UK and VideoRev. 

Opinion Insight 12th February 2024

Global study shows climate perception gaps are prevalent around the world

A new survey of nearly 130,000 people across 125 countries has found that there is widespread support for climate action around the world. But, people often don’t realise how much support there is.

The open access article, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, presents new, large-scale evidence of a global mandate for climate action, while shining a light on the pervasiveness of climate ‘perception gaps’. The headline findings across the global dataset show that:

  • 89% demand intensified political action.
  • 86% endorse the pro-climate ‘social norm’ that people in their country should try to fight global warming. 
  • Strikingly, 69% of the global population expresses a willingness to contribute 1% of their personal income. 

However, this ‘actual’ support for climate action was at a mismatch with what people ‘perceived’ the levels of support to be. Around the world, people “systematically underestimate the willingness of their fellow citizens to act”.

And these discrepancies matter. If we don’t believe there’s a mandate for green policies, inertia slows the pace of the green transition. ‘Perception gaps’ like these have consequences.

  • Source: Nature
  • Authors: Peter Andre, Teodora Boneva, Felix Chopra & Armin Falk
  • Date: 9th February 2024
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