Pro-Brexit survey is a long list of loaded questions

Posted in Bad polling, Europe on May 23rd, 2018 by Leo – 1 Comment

A poll on the House of Lords and Brexit, doing the rounds today, apparently shows the upper house is seen as out of tune with the public, would be wrong to try to stop Brexit and so on.

A glance at ComRes’s data tables is enough to throw up doubts about the results (the tables were published promptly after the Mail ran the story, so credit on that).

The fundamental problem is that the questions were nearly all one-sided agree/disagree questions, with each one loaded against the Lords and Remainers. A couple of examples:

  • It would be wrong for the House of Lords to try and thwart Brexit [“thwart”!]
  • It is wrong that the House of Lords has already voted against the government on Brexit 14 times
  • There are currently 780 members of the Lords compared to 650 MPs in the Commons. This is too many

If you really want to measure public opinion you ask a question that presents both sides of an argument equally, then allow respondents to choose which they are closer to. Or if you really have to ask agree/disagree questions, the collection of the questions should be balanced so you’re not pushing a particular argument and you can compare the skewed questions against each other.

A good guide of a fair poll is that you shouldn’t be able to guess the view of the organisation commissioning the poll from the questions. This clearly fails that.

The poll was done for a new pro-Brexit campaign called “We, the People”. Their website gives few clues about who they are, other than that the Fitzrovia-based outfit is a “grassroots campaigning group” that wants to “remind the liberal metropolitan elite of the ‘other Britain'”.

After the barrage of anti-Lords and pro-Brexit messages, respondents are given the opportunity to describe the Lords in terms like “out of tune with the will of the British people”  and “an outdated throwback”. They do unsurprisingly well.

The poll hasn’t broken any rules, but surveys with such skewed questions hardly help rebuild trust in the industry.

Climate apathy could mean disaster – but it isn’t inevitable

Posted in Climate Majority, Climate Sock on May 12th, 2018 by Leo – Be the first to comment

This was originally published by The Ecologist.

11 years ago the EU introduced wide-ranging rules regulating the manufacture and supply of chemicals. The rules imposed significant costs on businesses and, it’s hoped, will save many lives. But they were passed with little media coverage and have become a fact of life with few people being aware of their existence.

Given it’s been possible to restrict businesses and address a threat to public health without public debate when it comes to chemicals, could the world do the same with climate change? If that threat can also be tackled with rules that few people hear about, perhaps public opinion doesn’t matter.

Day-to-day life

Sadly for technocrats, this is unlikely. The challenge ahead, to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement and stop warming crossing dangerous thresholds, is enormous. Greenhouse gas emissions have been rising steadily since the Industrial Revolution; the world will need to reverse that rise, cutting emissions at an unprecedented rate until humans stop adding warming gases to the atmosphere within the next few decades.

That means not only cleaning up industrial sectors that are distant from most people’s lives, like electricity, chemicals and shipping (whose obscurity is reflected in the fact its crucial climate conference, happening this week, is getting almost no mainstream media coverage), it also means cutting emissions from most people’s day-to-day lives, like the ways we travel and the food we eat. Without cutting emissions from sectors like agriculture and aviation, the world won’t stop dangerous warming. It’s unlikely to be possible to clean up these sectors without most people noticing and agreeing to the changes.

So public support for tackling climate change will be essential, yet it’s far from assured. The problem isn’t climate denial: few people think the whole thing is a hoax, even in the countries where denial is loudest. A majority of the public accept climate science and believe it’s a threat that needs to be tackled. The problem comes when they’re asked to make sacrifices to deal with it – most are unwilling to do so and are suspicious when they hear about changes that would impose costs on them in the name of cutting emissions. Preventing dangerous warming may depend on public enthusiasm, but at the moment apathy is far more widespread.

This isn’t just a problem for the future – it matters right now. Take the UK: its emissions are falling fast but this progress has come without confronting the emission sources that would be less popular to cut. Plans to build a third runway at Heathrow would make the UK’s climate targets much harder to achieve, yet few politicians are prepared to acknowledge that cutting emissions probably means restricting flying. Similarly, the EU’s backing for TAP, a new pipeline that would bring huge volumes of Caspian Sea natural gas into Europe, suggests the bloc is also taking decisions now that will make it much more difficult to cut emissions in the next few decades.

Distant threat

If most people are worried about climate change, why does this kind of polluting infrastructure keep getting built, and why is there so little pressure for the measures that will be needed to prevent dangerous warming?

Psychologists have identified a host of reasons most people avoid thinking about climate change. Among these are the way the problem seems distant – its impacts are mostly in other places, it will mostly happen in the future – and progresses slowly, and the fact it requires sacrifices now to avert problems later. The barriers the mind puts up to avoid worrying about climate change might make the problem seem hopeless: Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman describes himself as “deeply pessimistic” about it.

But we must avoid confusing the inherent nature of climate change with the way it’s widely described and understood. For example, the fact the threat seems distant has more to do with the way its effects are described, notably the emphasis on ecosystems like the Arctic. The consequences for polar bears aren’t enough to motivate most people, and now climate change is hitting the people whose emissions need to fall – with storms like Hurricane Sandy, which devastated New York in 2012 made more likely by climate change – it’s no longer necessary to talk about it as a distant threat.

The same applies to the idea that climate change requires sacrifices for future benefits. It may well do, and, if that’s all that most people hear about it, there’s unlikely to be widespread enthusiasm. But there are plenty of ways in which tackling climate change can bring benefits beyond averting future problems, from cleaner air and new jobs, to better insulated homes and, perhaps, communities that jointly own wind farms and solar panels.

This is a matter of choice. Climate apathy could spell disaster for efforts to prevent dangerous warming but it isn’t inevitable. The fact it is so widespread is a result of various ways climate change has been, and continues to be, described. That can change. It will take a widespread shift in how the issue is talked about, but it’s still possible to turn apathy into action.

My book, The Climate Majority: Apathy and Action in an Age of Nationalism (New Internationalist), is now available.


Rudd’s resignation, immigration and Trump’s visit – Polling Matters

Posted in Polling Matters on May 2nd, 2018 by Leo – Be the first to comment

On this week’s Polling Matters, Keiran and I talked about the latest glut of voting intention polls. We looked at what is behind the differences in voting intention figures between pollsters, how Corbyn’s personal poll ratings compare historically and the importance of the economy iin current polling.

The podcast then turns to Rudd’s resignation this week, with an in-depth look at public opinion on her departure and immigration more generally. Topics covered include whether the public think our immigration system is fair, too strict and specifically what the public think about a ‘hostile environment’ policy.

We also talked about polling on President Trump’s upcoming ‘working visit’ and looked ahead to the local elections this week.


UK worries about climate change are at their highest level since 2010

Posted in Climate Majority, Climate Sock on April 26th, 2018 by Leo – Be the first to comment

Worries about climate change have been slowly increasing in the UK for the last few years. This has continued in 2018, with the latest wave of the BEIS (previously DECC) climate and energy poll, out today, showing concern is at its highest level since the series began with 2012.

I’ve combined this with earlier polls that have asked the same question, going back to 2005, making the longest-running comparable series of data that I’m aware of on UK concern about climate change. (See here for links to the earlier polls.)

27% are now very concerned about climate change and 47% somewhat concerned, making a total of 74%. That’s the highest since 2010, if we look at the proportion who are very concerned, or equals the 2012 level if we look at total concern. On either measure it’s still behind the levels in 2005 and 2008.


This mirrors the trend of rising concern about climate change that we’ve generally seen in the US and Australia.

My book, The Climate Majority: Apathy and Action in an Age of Nationalism (New Internationalist), is now available.


Can we be cheerful about climate change? Ed Miliband & Geoff Lloyd podcast

Posted in Climate Majority, Climate Sock on April 23rd, 2018 by Leo – Be the first to comment

I’m on this week’s Reasons to be Cheerful podcast, hosted by Ed Miliband and Geoff Lloyd, talking about what people think about climate change and what could influence public opinion.

The other guests were stellar: Christiana Figueres (architect of the Paris Agreement), Kim Holmen (head of the Norwegian Polar Institute) and Joss Garman (climate activist and policy thinker).

You can listen here.

My book, The Climate Majority: Apathy and Action in an Age of Nationalism (New Internationalist), is now available.


Corbyn’s ratings, economic trust and EU referendums – Polling Matters

Posted in Polling Matters on April 12th, 2018 by Leo – Be the first to comment

On this week’s Polling Matters, Keiran and I talked about:

  • Jeremy Corbyn’s declining poll ratings and whether Russia or the ongoing anti-Semitism row is more to blame.
  • A new poll shows May and Hammond leading Corbyn and McDonnell +13 points on the economy.
  • David Miliband’s favourabilty ratings – how do they compare to his brother and whether he could make a come back
  • Why question wording really matters when looking at support for a vote on the Brexit deal.

You can listen here:


What do Labour members think? Polling Matters

Posted in Labour, Politics, Polling Matters on April 5th, 2018 by Leo – Be the first to comment

On Polling Matters this week, Keiran and I talked about the recent poll of Labour members and what it means for Corbyn’s position. We also discussed recent polling on Brexit, which was more encouraging for the government than I would have expected.


Why are the Tories now leading? Polling Matters

Posted in Labour, Politics, Polling Matters on March 28th, 2018 by Leo – Be the first to comment

I was back on Polling Matters this week, talking about why the Tories have moved ahead in the polls, the Salisbury poisoning, Cambridge Analytica and anti-semitism in Labour.


Climate change isn’t left-wing – another political division is more important

Posted in Climate Majority on February 7th, 2018 by Leo – Comments Off on Climate change isn’t left-wing – another political division is more important

An Axios journalist’s description of people who want an immediate switch to 100% renewables as “far-left” has provoked argument.

Some have been bemused, some combative, and some patronising.

But most people probably agree with her. A poll I commissioned for my book found that climate change is the issue most associated with the political left.

And yet it’s easy to find problems with the idea that climate change is a left-wing interest:

  • Lord Deben (John Gummer), Greg Clark, Claire Perry and Amber Rudd are all right-of-centre but are serious about tackling climate change.
  • Jeremy Corbyn is to the left of Ed Miliband but doesn’t seem any more interested in climate change than his predecessor.
  • Ukip aren’t particularly to the right of the Tories but are vastly worse on climate change (want pull out of the Paris Agreement etc).
  • The TUC is left-of-centre but doesn’t take climate change that seriously – backing high-carbon projects like a new Heathrow runway.

What’s going on?

The problem comes from thinking along only one axis, the economic one. If we expect everyone who’s left-wing to be worried about climate change, we’ll keep on finding contradictions.

Instead, we should pay more attention to another axis, variously called internationalist-nationalist, open-closed, liberal-illiberal – and Remain-Leave.

Look at this YouGov poll. The single best predictor that someone’s interested in climate change is that they oppose significant reductions in immigration. The next best predictor is that they oppose the reintroduction of capital punishment.

Of the three parties’ voters, it’s Lib Dems, not Labour voters, who are most interested in climate change. Supporting the more left-wing party doesn’t mean you’re more worried about the climate.

The people who are most worried about climate change are most likely to be the ones in the top half of the two axes – the internationalist, open, liberals, Remainers.

Graphic from The Climate Majority

This isn’t to say the left-right axis is irrelevant. As a general rule, the more left-wing someone is, the more likely they are to be worried. But it’s a stronger rule that the more internationalist they are, the more worried they are.

It explains all the contradictions we saw above. Their northerly positions on the open-closed axis tell us why Lord Deben and co are worried about climate change while Ukip don’t care.

We keep on missing this, because the term “left-wing” tends to be conflated with the top-left quadrant, while the term “right-wing” tends to be conflated with the bottom-right quadrant. But that leaves out many people.

This probably helps explain why polls that ask people where they are on the left-right scale and what they think about climate change find that self-identified left-wing people are much more worried about it (eg here and here).

The two axes are important for understanding how to talk about climate change to people who aren’t already worried about it.

One lesson is it doesn’t make sense to ask what the left or the right – even the centre-left or centre-right – think about climate change, without also thinking about what you mean on the other axis.

If you’re talking about climate change with someone in the top-right quadrant – think George Osborne – you might expect them to be sympathetic, but perhaps worried about the economic costs. If you’re talking to someone in the bottom right quadrant – say Theresa May – you might expect them to be less interested, but perhaps persuadable on the basis of national interest.

It’s clearly wrong to say that wanting 100% renewables right now is far-left. If there’s any point on the political axes that predicts that view, it’s more like extreme-internationalism.

My book, The Climate Majority: Apathy and Action in an Age of Nationalism (New Internationalist), is now available.


Is every poll wrong? The British Election Study suggests they might be – Polling Matters

Posted in Politics, Polling Matters on February 4th, 2018 by Leo – Comments Off on Is every poll wrong? The British Election Study suggests they might be – Polling Matters

This may be the most interesting and important Polling Matters discussion in the 3+ years of the show. Keiran and I go through the results of the British Election Study and talk about why it suggests all other polls could be wrong – and what that means for our understanding of attitudes to politics.

You can listen here: