One poll, two stories

Climate change ‘more important than immigration’

Climate change should be a higher priority for the government than immigration, according to findings of a new poll revealed exclusively in Climate Sock. The results will delight environmental campaigners, who have long been calling for climate change to be taken more seriously as a political issue.

According to the poll, 46% more people think that climate change is an important issue in their life than say the same about immigration or asylum. The results will put pressure on the government, which was criticised last week by environmental leaders, who said it was failing to live up to its pledge to be the “greenest government ever”.

The findings will also put an end to doubts about the public’s trust in the work of climate scientists. Following the 2009 hacking and release online of emails from the world-leading Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, there was widespread speculation that public opinion was increasingly turning against the view that climate change was caused by human activity.

Any doubts now appear to have been overcome, with three in four of those surveyed by Ipsos MORI saying that they think human activity has a significant effect on the climate.

Welcoming the results, Eddard Stark, head of the environmental charity Climate Campaigners, said “The government can no longer hide behind the myth that the public have higher priorities. These results send a clear message: the country wants action to stop climate change, and it wants it now”.


Global warming? Bring it on!


Brits are looking forward to the effects of global warming, according to findings of a new poll revealed exclusively in Climate Sock. The results will delight observers who have long argued that environmental pressure groups routinely exaggerate the negative side of climate change.

According to the poll, more British adults think that the benefits of climate change will outweigh the risks than are worried about its effects. After a month of glorious spring weather, Brits are now looking forward to global warming, which could bring longer summers, and drier, milder winters.

This could spell an end to stressed families having to take overcrowded budget airline flights to Mediterranean resorts. Instead, improving weather may be about to make holidays at home as popular as they once were, providing a much-needed boost to long-suffering British tourist resorts.

Longer summers will also help the British wine industry. Once seen as the poor relation of traditional European wine producers, British wine may become a familiar sight at dinner parties across the country.

Welcoming the results, Jaime Lannister, head of the research organisation, Climate Change Truth, said “For too long, the country has had to listen to an unrepresentative and self-interested elite who peddle scaremongering myths about climate change. The fact is, there’s no conclusive evidence that humans are causing climate change, and even if any change does happen, it will probably be minor and fairly benign”.

The poll, conducted by Ipsos MORI, also demolishes the claim that Britain is becoming a secular country. Despite the arguments of atheistic scientists like Richard Dawkins, the poll found that more scientists agree that God created the earth and all life in it.


Both stories draw entirely on the same poll: Public Attitudes to Science 2011, published 2 May 2011.  All references to the data are technically accurate but not necessarily meaningful.

  1. Adam Corner says:

    Very interesting Leo…

    Might one way of reconciling those two angles be:

    People in Britain have got the message that climate change is real, that it is a threat – and that if left unchecked, it represents a significantly worse problem than immigration. But they also anticipate that (from a purely national perspective) the country is capable of not only reducing carbon emissions, but of building a society that revolves around low carbon industries etc etc.

    I mean basically that is the essence of the strangely-abandoned Green New Deal, and if people are naturally inclinced to accept it, it makes you wonder where on earth it has gone…

    I suppose what I am saying is that from the perspective of ‘spinning’ the results as a green group, what is wrong with people seeing benefits over risks (as long as that does not mean they dont support mitigation action?)

    I’ve not yet read the MORI poll so am basing this only on your blog…perhaps there is more info that contradicts what I am saying. Be interested to know what you think

    • Leo says:

      Hi Adam,

      I’d very much agree with that conclusion, ie people typically think it’s a problem in the long-term (though not one for today), but not one that will necessarily be insurmountable.

      Just to be clear on this poll though, I’d caution against taking the conclusions in the article seriously! What I’m trying to demonstrate is that it’s possible to write articles based on a poll that are technically correct, but are essentially meaningless because they overextrapolate from a single or small amount of data points in a single poll…. Will explain more in my reply below!


      • Adam Corner says:

        Hi Leo – I guess I thought that even though I knew your write up (and fake quotes!) were making a point (that you can interpret it in either way), that still leaves the Honest Accurate News Reporter with a question: how do you glue findings that seem to contradict each other together? I sympathise with this fictional reporter here – becuase while every new poll has to be interpreted in light of all other available polls, clearly they want to report the findings of the new one, and that’s fair enough.

        It is a tough question, becuase you could argue that it is not the job of journalists to have a huge knowledge of the previous polls…and realistically not enough time to read the whole poll through either hunting for caveats etc. So whose job is it? I suppose it is the job of the pollster in their summary to be accurate and not spin it in one way or the other…

        • Leo says:

          It’s a fair point. Not unlike the debate about how science journalists should report the results of a particular study that appears to show a dramatic result that may not necessarily fit with other work that’s been done. And then the added pressure here is that the work’s often been paid for by the journalist’s organisation, who need to be able to justify their outlay on that particular poll by getting a good story out of it! Of course the pollsters are in a similar position as well themselves: they’ve got to sell more work in the future, so there’s no business in saying that a particular poll is not necessarily that meaningful in isolation, and an unusual/dramatic finding is more likely to be wrong than a boring one.

          That said, there are clearly often still very interesting conclusions to be drawn from individual polls (which may be reinforced by verifying with other ones). Nothing wrong with that, as long as the data are available for other people to check.

  2. Jayesh says:

    Hi Leo,

    I’m part of the team of Ipsos MORI researchers that worked on this study (although obviously speaking for myself here, and not for Ipsos MORI!). Thanks for blogging about this and encouraging debate.

    I am not sure how you got the 46% figure, and would be interested to know this. I assume you took data from Q1 (the only question where immigration appears), which asks people without prompting for the two or three most important issues for them personally – 4% say “environmental issues/climate change” and 3% say “race relations/immigration/asylum seekers”. It is worth noting the one percentage point difference here is not statistically significant, i.e. it could have occured by chance.

    I would also advise caution when discussing the perceived risks and benefits of climate change. The absolute responses to this question are difficult to interpret, since people may either have been referring to “action to prevent climate change”, or to “climate change” itself when answering. Nonetheless, the trend finding – the proportion saying the benefits of “climate change” outweigh the risks has increased by 16 percentage points since 2005 – does support recent research on public perceptions of climate change, which suggests the public are increasingly sceptical about the risks. E.g. in another survey, Ipsos MORI/Cardiff University found an 11 percentage point fall between 2005 and 2010 in the proportion agreeing that there are risks to people in Britain from climate change [Ipsos MORI/Cardiff University (2010) ‘Public Perception of Climate Change and Energy Futures in Britain’, Cardiff University]. The change in public attitudes could have a variety of short and long-term causes, including public reaction to the “climategate” controversy in 2009, the current economic conditions making climate change seem less important and the particularly cold winter spell in the UK during fieldwork for the survey.

    Finally, I would also be cautious when analysing results by the subgroup of people who identify themselves as scientists, as the poll is meant to be representative of the UK general public, but not of all scientists. But, again, it’s good to raise these findings and discuss what they might mean for public engagement with science.

    • Leo says:

      Hi Jayesh,

      Thanks so much for the comment and for the (entirely fair) points. You may be surprised to hear that this is exactly what my post is getting at!

      What I’m trying to demonstrate is that it’s entirely possible to write a credible-sounding and technically correct article on the basis of a small amount of out-of-context findings from a single poll. This is exactly what happens in most poll coverage (not surprisingly since media organisations typically pay for a single poll, which they then want to report prominently), and why reports of polling on climate change issues (as well as many other issues) appear often to be contradictory between different media outlets. It’s not hard for someone looking for a particular answer to look at a single poll like this one and find the conclusion that they want, which they can use as a basis of a story that ties in with their established narrative.

      So, in the first article, the 46% figure sounds very impressive and a big finding (it’s the difference in the raw weighted numbers between those saying climate change and those saying immigration). But as you correctly point out, it’s really meaningless, because both are within margin of error of one another. That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be reported though (I can give examples…). It is perhaps interesting that immigration is so low, but having seen that, the response should be to verify it with other polls to check whether the finding here is an outlier for some reason (unusual wording, strange sample etc).

      In the second article, the benefits of climate change question. Again, the data point is entirely valid, and in isolation it looks astonishing and very newsworthy. But the reason it seems to have come out as it has is that it appeared as something that would normally be a negative in a list of things that are normally positives. People are clearly influenced by the surrounding questions. As you say, the comparison with the Understanding Risks data is helpful to verify this – but the trouble is (and this is the point of the article), most of the time polls are reported without the appropriate context.

      And thirdly, on the sub-groups, same point. Completely agree with you!


      • Jayesh says:

        Oh right (slaps hand on forehead). I didn’t get the satirical nature of it at first, but it makes sense now. I think this is a good reason to be transparent with the data – the website for the poll allows you to download all the results in various formats and do your own analysis/challenge someone else’s analysis, which is as much as you can do really to prevent it being taken out of context.

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