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  • Overview
  • Mar '24
    What are perception gaps and why do they matter?
  • Feb '24
    Video: People want climate action so why don’t politicians get it?
  • Global study shows climate perception gaps are prevalent around the world
  • Nov '23
    Tracker data: MP and public views on energy sources
  • Tracker data: Public and MPs underestimate net zero support
  • Oct '23
    Making sense of differences between the public and MP opinions on oil and gas
  • MPs continue to underestimate importance of the environment for voters
  • Climate Citizens report: MPs underestimate the importance of the environment for voters
  • Tracker data: Gap in perceived support for local wind and solar
  • Jul '22
    New research paper: politicians and activists ‘speak a different language’ on climate change
  • May '19
    Poll reveals MP misperceptions over onshore wind
Topic

Perception Gaps

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  • In Brief

    Perception gaps occur both in MPs’ judgments of their constituents and the general public, and among public audiences too (i.e. members of the public sometimes misperceive what other people think about energy sources, green policies and climate change).

    These misperceptions can have real consequences: a sense of fatalism if people don’t think others care; misplaced concerns about falling ‘outside the norm’ when taking action on climate issues; policies not being ambitious enough because politicians incorrectly ‘read’ voter sentiment.

    Mischaracterisation of public support on onshore wind (our Climate Barometer tracker data shows MPs consistently underestimate it) has been a barrier to the approval and roll out of developments, with restrictive planning rules making it very difficult to approve applications and developments.

    What’s driving misperceptions around climate and energy opinions?

    This thread brings together our own Climate Barometer tracker data – comparing public and MPs’ judgments about public opinion on different topics and issues – with wider research and insights that help make sense of perception gaps.

     

  • 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
    Climate Barometer Tracker 30th November 2023

    Tracker data: MP and public views on energy sources

    Climate Barometer Tracker data over three waves shows clear patterns and differences in MP and public opinion about different forms of energy sources. MPs and the public share roughly the same opinion of solar power and coal, the former seeing consistently high support and the latter seeing consistently low support. And while MPs tend to overestimate public backlash to onshore wind, we see here that the public are actually more supportive of onshore wind than MPs.

    There are a few areas in which public support is lower than that of MPs: nuclear energy, oil, gas, and hydroelectric dams. Support for blue and green hydrogen is also considerably lower, but likely due to low public knowledge about these sources of energy.

     

    Climate Barometer Tracker 8th November 2023

    Tracker data: Public and MPs underestimate net zero support

    The latest wave of Climate Barometer tracker data shows that across political divides, both the public and MPs continue to underestimate public support for the UK’s net zero targets.

    Conservative MPs and Labour MPs both tend to underestimate public support overall (which is at 69% for the public in general), as well as the support for net zero among voters of their own parties.

    Underestimations like this matter, because they feed back in to the discourse on net zero: if people (falsely) believe others don’t support net zero, then this is likely to stoke a sense of fatalism and over time could undermine actual support.

    And for MPs, a misreading of public opinion means the right signal is not being heard from voters, which can underpin faulty calculations about the political gains to be had from opposing net zero.

    Climate Barometer Tracker 26th October 2023

    Making sense of differences between the public and MP opinions on oil and gas

    Support for oil and gas is low among the UK public. But in common with several other key areas of climate policy (especially onshore wind) Conservative MPs have a different view. Compared to the public – including Conservative voters – Conservative MPs are more likely to:

    • Favour expanding domestic oil and gas production, over investing in renewables (when asked to choose between the two)
    • Have a ‘net favourable’ opinion of oil as a source of energy
    • Overestimate how favourable an opinion the public, including Conservative voters, have of oil

    What explains this difference in perspective? One answer may simply be the formal position of the Conservative Party, which is to continue awarding new oil and gas licenses (whilst maintaining a commitment to net zero by 2050). Working backwards from the fact the party is committed to approving new oil and gas extraction, Conservative MPs may feel a tension in opposing oil and gas on a personal level (given that they have to represent this policy to their constituents).

    And although Conservative MPs overestimate how favourable their voters are towards oil and gas, they are aligned in a different way: Climate Barometer tracker data shows Conservative voters are more likely to oppose (48%) than support (16%) the ending of drilling in the North Sea for oil and gas altogether.

    Climate Barometer Tracker 23rd October 2023

    MPs continue to underestimate importance of the environment for 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.

    Opinion Insight 23rd October 2023

    Climate Citizens report: MPs underestimate the importance of the environment for voters

    The political mandate for climate action has strengthened over the past five years according to a report led by the Climate Citizens research group at Lancaster University. But the same report also notes there’s a belief among some MPs that climate concern is concentrated among middle-class and wealthier voters. One MP interviewed for the report said:

    If you’re struggling you’re not going to be thinking ‘has COP26 been of success or not?’ They don’t give a damn about offshore, onshore wind, that’s completely irrelevant to their lives.

    In fact, resources like Britain Talks Climate show climate change is important across social groups. And typically, the ‘loud minorities’ who oppose renewable energy projects are likely to be over-represented among wealthier constituents.

    Our Climate Barometer tracker data shows that MPs underestimate the salience of the environment for voters relative to other issues.

    Climate Barometer Tracker 5th October 2023

    Tracker data: Gap in perceived support for local wind and solar

    Climate Barometer Tracker data across three waves shows consistent public support for local renewable projects. The  public are positive towards the prospect of new solar parks and onshore wind farms being built in their area, with greater than 70% support for both.

    However, people – and their MPs – underestimate the actual public support for both initiatives, and overestimate opposition to them. This shows that MPs continue to misperceive public opinion in relation to renewable energy projects, and illustrates the stickiness of ‘not in my backyard‘ assumptions despite evidence to the contrary.

    Policy Insight 23rd July 2022

    New research paper: politicians and activists ‘speak a different language’ on climate change

    In a new paper (open-access link) published in the journal Language and Ecology, Clare Cunningham and her colleagues at York St John University analysed the prevalence and use of climate change words and phrases by politicians and activists.

    The analysis revealed major differences. Activists use emotive language and talk about ecology, guilt, and morality. Politicians use much more technocratic language and focus on finance, trade-offs, technologies and the economy, reflecting a longstanding positioning of environmental issues among political elites as emerging from a cost-benefit analysis perspective.

    Perhaps most strikingly, ‘people’ barely feature in politicians’ discourse on climate – showing up only as ‘bill payers’. 

    The analysis is important to help understand why campaigns aimed at political or other ‘elite’ groups can sometimes fail to land with public audiences, and vice-versa. In related research, IPPR tested a range of climate change narratives and found that (despite their common usage by climate campaigners) language around ‘green jobs’ was not as compelling for the public as language around protecting the environment for future generations, or the need to reduce the risks from climate impacts.

    Climate Barometer tracker polling backs this up: the public is not very persuaded by arguments that climate policies will deliver lots of new jobs. But this is more likely to reflect a widespread lack of trust in the ability of government to deliver on its promises, than a distaste for green jobs.

    Opinion Insight 3rd May 2019

    Poll reveals MP misperceptions over onshore wind

    The Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) have published a survey showing MPs overestimate public opposition to onshore wind power. They report:

    Just 8% of Members of Parliament know that onshore wind farms are now the cheapest way to add electricity generating capacity in the UK. For comparison, 12% believe that large nuclear power stations, like Hinkley Point C, provide the cheapest new capacity.

    The poll also shows that MPs consistently overestimate opposition to onshore wind. The most recent Government survey shows that just 2% of the population strongly opposes the technology – but only 9% of MPs think that the figure is less than 5%. Over half of MPs (52%) believe the level of strong opposition to be above 20%.

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