Archive for September, 2011

Two years of Climate Sock

Posted in Climate Sock on September 19th, 2011 by Leo – 1 Comment

It’s been two years since a long day’s cycling in Andalucia produced the thought that a lot of unfounded speculation is spouted about public opinion on climate change. The idea was born of  a website about what people really think about the environment.

Who still cares about the climate?

In those two years, we’ve heard repeated claims that people are becoming less worried about climate change. The UEA email release – Climategate – has been blamed, though after trial may well have been innocent.

And despite some attempts to hype up the change in mood, opinion seemed to bounce back to near where it had been before.

So if it wasn’t UEA – or indeed Glaciergate – that changed people’s minds, perhaps it was the cold winters. And so perhaps the next one might do the same.

But on the other hand, maybe it was all down to the economy that had made climate change a relatively low priority.

Indeed perhaps all this is a misdiagnosis of people’s boredom with the argument between two rival camps. Just because they say they’re sick of the argument doesn’t mean they’re not worried about climate change.

Campaigns and politics

So all isn’t lost for climate change campaigners. People would even go along with higher environmental taxes in some situations (not that these are necessarily the answer). But making climate change about cute animals misses the mark, at least in the short term.

But there’s still work to do to show why climate change is a tangible environmental problem, though connecting with worries about an energy shortage doesn’t seem to be the answer.

We’ve seen the need to learn the lessons of professional communications campaigns, as well – perhaps – as from a couple of unexpected NGOs. And above all, campaigners need to avoid letting governments be seen as the only ones dealing with climate change.

Talking of politics, the 2010 election presented some interesting challenges for the major parties. We saw Caroline Lucas elected as a Green MP, and relatively strong prospects for the Greens to win more seats. Though outside Brighton, the last election wasn’t great for them, despite fighting some interesting battles.

In Australia, talking about climate change seems to have become ever more of a contact sport and was kept out of the general election, which yielded more challenges for the Greens. But despite the ferocity, it looks like climate change is still a major worry for Australians.

Energy and energy disasters

It’s been two years of environmental calamities that have caused only minor tremors on the polling charts.

The Gulf of Mexico spill wreaked environmental havoc but hardly revolutionised US attitudes to off-shore drilling. Fukushima also didn’t cause much of a stir in views of nuclear power, at least in the US and UK.

At least the nuclear disaster did remind us how much the nuclear industry like polling (a lot, and they really aren’t afraid to use it). Which is a little odd, because the best their polls ever show is nuclear being grudgingly accepted.

Good polls and bad polls

And the constant backdrop to all the numbers has been the twin frustrations of good polls being badly reported, and bad polls being unquestioningly reported.

Even the good guys sometimes do bad polls, and the way polls are reported can do a lot to fix the problem. But that doesn’t always happen and that’s why there’s still a need for nerds to check the data.

Thank you so much for reading and for your comments and suggestions. I’ll be announcing changes to Climate Sock soon, which I hope will provide the basis for more number crunching and opinion checking.

How much support is there for the death penalty?

Posted in Criminal justice on September 10th, 2011 by Leo – Comments Off on How much support is there for the death penalty?

Few would have predicted that a petition opposing the death penalty could collect more signatures than one to restore capital punishment. It’s surprising because the country is generally assumed to want to bring back death penalty, and restoration is only held back by politicians with different values.

The various polls on the death penalty suggest that restoration does indeed have general support. But that support isn’t overwhelming, and for a substantial proportion depends on certain conditions.

At a basic level, if we ask whether the death penalty should be permitted for certain, specific, crimes, we find pretty consistent support:

So there’s a clear majority in favour of restoration for some crimes.

Yet for this level of support, the phrasing does need to limit restoration to specific cases. If, instead of focusing on extreme cases, the question suggests bringing back the death penalty for murder in general, support is lower:

This reflects what we might expect: a sizable part of those who want restoration would only want the death penalty to be applicable in certain fairly extreme cases.

As we might also expect, the split between supporters and opponents has quite strong demographic differences. In general, it’s the older and those in social groups D and E who support restoration.

That may not be surprising, but there is also an interesting political difference.

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How unpopular is Nick Clegg?

Posted in Politics on September 8th, 2011 by Leo – 2 Comments

He’s the most unpopular British politician of modern times. His transition might not have been Stalin to Mr Bean, but hasn’t been far from Churchill to Haw-Haw .

At least, so goes the conventional wisdom about Nick Clegg. Reliable political commentators, Andrew Rawnsley and Peter Oborne included, have based articles on the assumption that Clegg is widely hated. But is that actually true?

Some facts are incontestable. The Clegg family have had dog poo through their letterbox. An effigy of Nick Clegg has been hung at an anti-tuition fees demo.

So there’s no doubt that Clegg is indeed hated by part of the population. But while he’s deeply hated by some, it’s not clear that he’s widely hated.

Exhibit one comes from Lord Ashcroft’s recent poll, enormous both in detail and sample size. Surprisingly, the results suggest that Clegg doesn’t face much stronger overall hostility than either Cameron or Miliband. The proportion that is most unfavourable towards Clegg is only slightly higher than it is for the other leaders: 25% against 21%.


Their average scores are very similar too. Clegg gets 41%, against Cameron’s 49% and Miliband’s 40%. This was conducted last December, and other polls suggest Miliband’s scores have gone up slightly since then, but it certainly doesn’t suggest that Clegg is far from the others.

It’s not just these beauty contests that challenge the assumption of widespread Cleggphobia. A Times/Populus poll in early May this year – when Clegg was supposed to be really suffering – provides more detail on how each leader is seen.

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