Is concern about climate change greater among elites?

How far is concern about climate change the preserve of the elite?  It’s a simple question, but one that I’ve not previously seen answered convincingly. Many of the polls I’ve covered break out the data by social grade and education, but yet none of them show really clear distinctions in attitudes towards climate change.

However, a new poll by YouGov does show something different.  Their poll was commissioned by Chatham House, and sampled both UK general public, and a YouGov panel of ‘influential people’. Here, there was more difference between the audiences than I’ve seen from looking at distinctions of social grade or education, with the elite panel apparently significantly more concerned about climate change than the rest of the population.

First, a quick word on the panel. It’s operated by YouGovStone, a partner agency of YouGov, who say it “includes Parliamentarians, business leaders, senior journalists, senior professionals in health and education, academics and charity leaders”. I can’t find any more details about the make-up of their panel, so have no way of knowing what this means in practice. A panel may include these people, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it only includes these people, or that they participated in all of the polls sent to them. Nonetheless, I have no reason to doubt the assertion that the panel represents “‘elite’ opinion-formers”.

The survey looks at various aspects of foreign affairs, with two questions that touch on climate change. The first asks about “current of possible future threats to the British way of life”. In the general public sample, 25% choose climate change/global warming (sixth placed); among the elites, 44% do so (fourth placed). (Respondents were limited to choosing a max of four issues – so the difference can’t just be explained by one audience picking many more threats overall)

Similarly, in terms of tackling climate change, the elite panel are much more convinced of the need for action:

So, the poll gives some clear evidence to support what we might have suspected: that elites/senior professionals are more likely than the general public to think that climate change is a serious threat.

There’s one other point that’s striking for me about the data. Looking at the break-outs of the general public data, two groups come close to matching the elite panel in their attitudes to climate change: Lib Dem voters, and those aged 18-24 years. Among these groups, 50% and 49% respectively want tough measures to reduce UK emissions (though there’s also a sizeable portion of the younger group who say they don’t know). Both are more likely to be concerned about climate change than other general public audiences.

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  1. Susie F says:

    couple of thoughts on this:

    – the graph only shows that the elites seem to have preference for nation-state action on climate change, and international negotiations – possibly this might differ across different types of solutions: local action; private sector; alternative agreements etc

    – the earlier data only refers to climate change as a foreign affairs issue, if climate change were broken up into some constituent parts such as domestic energy security, local risk of flooding etc again the results may look different.

    – generally I am skeptical that this is an ‘elite’ issue, but I think it can be framed in ways that make it seems so i.e. as a purely international, foreign affairs issue. When broken down into local impacts, and tied into the reality of daily life it is of immediate interest to people from across the whole social spectrum.

    • leo says:

      Thanks, would very much agree and could definitely have phrased the article better to fit with these points. The questions are clearly asked about climate change as phrased in a certain, abstract way; the lower scores for the general population group quite possibly reflects the abstract and state-focused way that climate change is typically discussed. It could equally be taken as an argument to show that there are better ways of phrasing/framing it as an issue, that – as you say – ties it better into more people’s daily lives, and allows them to have some control over responses, rather than relying on the state to tackle it.

  2. Maryam Kaur says:

    it is very evident that climate change is already taking effect in this decade,-.

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