Archive for January, 2011

What do we do when two good polls say opposite things?

Posted in Climate Sock, Climategate, Media on January 31st, 2011 by leo – 5 Comments

Crikey.  You wait months for fresh data and then two big ones come at once.  And such is life, they say pretty much opposite things. I’ll get to some proper analysis later, but just for now some first thoughts.

Firstly, about the polls. There’s one in the Guardian that apparently shows concern about climate change to be at the same level now as it was in August ’09, i.e. before the UEA emails, the cold winters, Copenhagen, and the relentless stories about how no-one believes in climate change any more.

Then, there’s one in the Mail – which is actually reporting ONS data from August last year – that shows that agreement with climate science is lower now than it’s been at any point since ’06 (when the figures begin).

So, my reactions:

This isn’t a case of the Guardian being climate warriors and the Mail being climate deniers

As far as I can see, both are reporting the data accurately. There’s no apparent cherry picking, and it looks like the comparisons with previous polls are fair. The Guardian’s reporting stands out for linking directly to both data sets, which I don’t remember ever seeing before – round of applause for Damian Carrington – but the Mail’s doesn’t say anything that I don’t think is justifiable (though it took quite a while to find the data – any reason they couldn’t link to it?).

The questions are different and may not be measuring the same phenomenon

I’ve been saying for a while that the decrease in people saying they’re absolutely convinced that the climate is changing/that global warming is a very big problem may be a factor of the way the ‘debate’ between climate warriors and deniers is being conducted. It’s become so vitriolic that many people are heading for the middle ground, on the assumption that both sides are partly right (or because they’re just sick of it).

So a question like ONS’s, whose answer choices are “very convinced/fairly convinced/not very convinced/not at all convinced/don’t know” would tend to lose people from the extremes of the scale to the middle (as happens to an extent: 45% in ’06 to 41% now).

In contrast, the Guardian’s question was on a discrete scale and didn’t present the contrast between firm opinion vs middle ground (climate change already a threat / will be a threat in the future / not a threat / don’t know). Maybe as a result, there’s less of an effect from the way the debate is being conducted and reported.

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More bad poll reporting… even when it’s in the name of the forests

Posted in Bad polling, Climate Sock, Media on January 24th, 2011 by leo – 1 Comment

I like:

  • Trees. Particularly when they’re part of forests.
  • People being able to get into forests with as few restrictions as possible.
  • People’s views being taken into account when government policy is formed.

Because of that, I’m a bit sad about what I’m about to write.

If you’re in the UK, there’s a good chance you’ve seen or heard coverage of 38 Degrees’ poll, which apparently showed that 75% of the public are against the government’s plans to privatise some forests and change the way it manages the rest. It’s had coverage pretty much everywhere, from the bleeding hearts at the Guardian and BBC to those bastions of anti-green activism at the Sun and Telegraph.

So being a nerd, the first thing I did when I heard the news was to look for the data. And this was when I started getting sad.

1. The data weren’t published when the articles were written

To my knowledge, all the coverage was put together on the basis of what 38 Degrees gave to the media (the data were put up on the YouGov site today, Monday, with the coverage posted on Saturday or Sunday).

We’ve seen several times before why this matters. If journalists cover a poll without seeing the data, they’re often reliant entirely on the word of people who are trying to promote their own interest.

In November, we saw an EDF poll that won coverage of apparent strong support for a new nuclear power station, on the basis of a question that came after respondents had been reminded of the jobs a power station could create.

And we’ve seen other polls reported with absolutely no data ever published, like the claim made in an Easyjet press release last year that a YouGov poll showed that 80% of UK consumers wanted a rethink of Air Passenger Duty. Without the data being available, there’s no way of knowing whether it was true.

Now, this isn’t particular to 38 Degrees: everyone does it. After all, when you’ve got a shiny new poll fresh from the pollsters, why not get coverage for it straight away?  And of course if you’re a journalist and you know that competitors have also got the same story, you’ve got to cover it straight away.

But here’s another reason why that’s a bad idea:

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Apparently it really is the economy, stupid

Posted in Climate Sock, Climategate on January 20th, 2011 by leo – 2 Comments

GlobeScan have recently been trailing this year’s results for their annual global tracker, which has prompted a bit of a geekout in Climatesockland.  These guys at GlobeScan seriously mean business with their tracker: they’re now up to 27 countries, including some places where fieldwork for a nationally representative poll takes quite a bit of organising (I dread to think how you would do a truly nationally representative poll in Indonesia for example, but so they claim to have done).

The good news, poll fans, is that those nice people at GlobeScan have sent me some of the data that they hadn’t previously published (unlike the PR polls that are so irritatingly reported without any published data to back them up, this was a piece of private polling, so GlobeScan weren’t governed by the rules of the British Polling Council to release the data).

And from even this relatively small bit of data, we see something interesting:

That looks to me like a significant fall in concern about climate change between ’09 and ’10 that seems to be felt across the world.

This would seem to challenge the usual explanations for the fall in the UK of concern about climate change between late ’09 and early ’10. A particularly cold winter can’t possibly be the explanation for this given that ’10 seems to have been one of the hottest years on record globally.

Similarly, it’s very hard to believe that the UEA emails (and other challenges to climate science) made enough of a splash in all of these countries to have driven these changes.

If we go back to earlier data, and look at changes from ’07 to ’10, we see a slightly different picture:

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What is it about the nuclear industry and polling?

Posted in Climate Sock, Energy sources on January 11th, 2011 by leo – 3 Comments

I never set out to pick on the nuclear industry. For one, they’ve got ready access to capital and probably know where to find a man who could administer a hearty dose of polonium.  But as I’m in the habit of writing about public attitudes to the environment and such, I’ve found it hard not to notice that the British nuclear industry seems to have a particular enthusiasm for polling.

To take a six-month period last year: in May, EDF had YouGov do a poll about different energy sources. A few months later, EDF commissioned more polling, this time among the population living near the Hinkley Point Power Station in Somerset .

Then, just two months after EDF’s latest poll, the British Nuclear Industry Association joined in the fun, with the latest wave of their own annual poll, covering, yep, attitudes towards nuclear power.

As with the earlier polls, the results are reasonably good for advocates of nuclear power. People in general are not overwhelmingly hostile to the prospect of building new power stations, either as replacements for existing ones (47% support, 19% oppose), or as additions to the current capacity (40% support, 23% oppose). When nuclear is included as part of the energy mix (along with renewable) as many as 69% will go along with it.

Probably most encouraging for the industry is that this new poll shows support for new power stations (as replacements) at its highest level since they began polling in 2001:

That said, we’ve seen in previous polls (covered here) that when compared with attitudes to other energy sources, nuclear performs much worse:

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