This article was originally published on Carbon Brief.
It’s nearly a year since the storms that led to flooding across much of the UK.
Over the last decade, the UK has experienced a range of extreme weather events: heatwaves, droughts, big freezes, as well as storms and floods. Scientists have linked some of these with climate change, and the IPCC concludesplaces like the UK will experience some extreme weather events like heatwaves and floods more often as a result of climate change.
Some, like former diplomat Sir Crispin Tickell, have suggested that extreme weather events will be the only thing that prompts meaningful action on climate.
But when the UK next suffers more flooding, will it make any difference to the public debate about climate change?
To test the idea, I undertook a research project looking at published opinion polls, newspaper archives and records of parliamentary debates, from 2006 to early 2014, to see the impact UK extreme weather events have on how climate change gets talked about in public, the media, and parliament.
High-water mark of public concern
In terms of public opinion, last year’s floods coincided with a leap in concern about the environment, according to regular YouGov polls measuring which issues people consider the most important.
Following months of sustained flooding, in February 2014 the proportion of people naming the environment as one of the top three issues facing the country jumped from around 7 per cent to 23 per cent. That put it at about the same level as health and welfare. It’s hard to see any explanation for this other than the floods.
One crucial limitation of this measure is that it doesn’t show whether the public were concerned about the environment in general, or climate change in particular, although another poll at the time found 47% thought the floods were climate-related. It also doesn’t measure underlying attitudes, which might change over longer periods.
However, with questions that are asked consistently and regularly, the YouGov poll and a similar Ipsos MORI poll allow us to compare the impact of last year’s floods with responses to other extreme weather events, and see which have attracted the most public concern.
Looking at 13 extreme weather events occurring in the UK since 2006, none prompted a comparable increase in public concern about the environment. In fact, none were associated with any increase above 3 points, which is around the margin of error.
The difference in response to last winter’s flooding, compared with previous events, may be because this type of polling was less frequent before 2010. But it also suggests that last winter was unusual in the impact it had on people’s views about the importance of the environment as a current issue facing the UK.
Media and political: discussions of climate change
Public concern is just one part of the debate. I also looked at mentions of climate change in UK national newspapers, and found that on several occasions since 2006 extreme weather events have led to an increase in media discussion of the issue.
During storms and floods in July 2007, March 2008 and November 2012 (but not following other weather events), media mentions of climate change increased significantly, in each case by around two-thirds.
In this week’s edition, Keiran Pedley and I discuss the Green Party, their supporters and their prospects for the next election.
CORRECTION: In this episode, I said the Greens are 12 points down on Labour in Caroline Lucas’ constituency. That’s true, but Ashcroft’s poll asks a follow-up question, encouraging people to think about their constituency in particular. This puts the Labour lead at just 1 point. I suspect that’s a better gauge of how people are likely to vote, suggesting she’s in fairly strong position to keep her seat. Apologies.
I’ve been writing this blog for five years. Most grateful to anyone who’s bothered to read it and to everyone who’s re-posted it or used my findings elsewhere.
In the spirit of these things, here are my five favourite charts that I’ve produced over the years:
5. Most people don’t understand the word ‘progressive’
Words are useful when they help people understand things. The word ‘progressive’ has become code among politics people for left-wing, or perhaps centre-left, or perhaps liberal in general.
It seems more common in the US and perhaps there people understand it as meaning ‘left-wing’. They don’t here though.
Here, for most people it has no political meaning at all: it just means “someone I like”:
4. Wind farms are really popular, even when they’re built nearby
On one level I sort of understand the Tory Party’s opposition to wind farms. I’m sure there are some people that viscerally hate them, maybe even majorities in some communities, and perhaps Tory policy wonks think they’re a bad investment.
But the way some senior Tories talk, it’s as if wind farms are as popular neighbours as paedophile collectives – particularly compared with how they talk about fracking. They seem to assume that wind farms are hated, and everyone knows they’re hated.
Which is odd, because this is what people think about potential local power sources:
3. People no longer think the monarchy make Britain better
The first episode of a new podcast, Polling Matters, in which Keiran Pedley and I discuss politics and polling. This week we talk about Ed Miliband – looking at the recent Survation and YouGov polls about the Labour leaders and comparing him with other potential leaders.
Green supporters often say their party is ignored by the media. The proposal to exclude Natalie Bennett from the leaders’ debates triggered the latest protests, but this is a long-running argument.
In particular, Greens point to the coverage that Ukip get, which they say is much more than the Greens get, and unfairly so.
I’ve never been quite convinced by this. Ukip have at least twice the popular support of the Greens, so it seems natural that they should get more coverage.
But now I’ve measured how much coverage each party gets, I’ve realised I was wrong. Even after factoring in their relative levels of popular support, Ukip get several times more coverage than the Greens.
More coverage than the Greens, and growing
I’ve searched for how many times Ukip and the Green Party were mentioned by UK national newspapers each month since January 2012* – and compared it with the voting intent for both parties in the Ipsos Mori monthly political monitor.
The dominance of Ukip coverage (purple bars), relative to the Greens (green bars) is striking:
What we really want to know, though, is how proportionate the coverage is to each party’s popular support.
Dividing the number of mentions by the parties’ poll ratings gives a sort of conversion score: how many articles they get for each percentage point of popular support they have.
Using this we see that Ukip get far more coverage relative to their support than the Greens do. This chart divides the number of media mentions by each party’s poll score at the time – so if their coverage was proportionate to their support, the lines would be the same height.
It’s interesting to look at this in three distinct phases.
I was recently asked to give a summary presentation of public opinion about climate change and energy.
Most of it will be familiar to regular readers, though may still be of interest:
Seven months to go, historical polls still point to a narrow Tory election lead, with Labour the largest partyPosted in Historical polls, Politics on October 1st, 2014 by Leo – 1 Comment
Seven months until the General Election it’s time for an update of my chart of what historical polls and votes can tell us about the election ahead.
The new analysis suggests that:
Opposition lead at the election =
(0.6 x Opposition lead seven months before the election) – 4.3pts
According to UK Polling Report, Labour’s current lead is 4pts. This means the analysis suggests a Tory lead after the election of just under 2pts: probably not enough for a majority, and with Labour the largest party.
This is almost exactly the same prediction as from polls a year before elections. It is also similar to – though marginally better for the Tories than – the prediction from polls two years before elections.
But now focus on the elections in the area in the red box below: where the polls were narrow at this stage. In these cases there is a huge amount of variation in the results: from a healthy Opposition victory (’79) to a comfortable Government majority (’87).
So from where we are now, previous elections suggest either main party could build a majority-sized lead.
That said, the fact the polls have followed the historical trend for at least the last 17 months provides some evidence to support the model’s prediction of a very small Tory lead.