The best energy and climate change poll ever

The great thing about reporting other people’s polls is there’s always something to complain about.  The question order is biasing the responses, the weighting’s gone wrong, the answer choices don’t make sense.

So I was a bit nervous when Carbon Brief asked me to help them design a poll on energy and climate change. Who would I make snide remarks about when I saw the results?

But there was too much still to find out about what the country makes of climate change: I was never going to say no.

The results are fascinating. To go along with them, this is a brief explanation of why we set up the poll as we did and what we were hoping to find out. The full questionnaire is here.

The question order

A good poll questionnaire takes the shape of a funnel: you start from the general and get more specific.  The aim is to avoid asking anything that influences the result of later questions. For example if you want to find out how much people really care about the UK’s EU membership,  you should ask about which issues, out of any, they consider most important before you say anything about Brussels.

But sometimes you hit a problem, when you have two questions that both need to come before the ‘reveal’.

In this poll, we wanted to ask about aviation and about energy. Do people think about airport expansion in the context of climate change? Do they think about energy prices in the context of wind farms? Since both are climate change-related, neither could be fairly asked once we’d got people thinking about the environment.

Our solution: put aviation first and the energy questions in a separate poll.

Do you believe in climate change? Again?

It’s the most predictable question on the planet. But there are three reasons why it made sense to include it.

Firstly, the question has been asked in dozens of different ways. A simple three-way split (caused by humans / natural / not changing) is my favourite as it doesn’t over-complicate matters for respondents or for people understanding the results. It also allowed us to compare with previous results.

Secondly, a poll in the ‘90s found much greater concern about ‘global warming’ than about ‘climate change’. Is that still true? So we split the sample in half and showed different questions to each half. The results are surprising.

Finally, I’ve spotted before that there are lots of people who say they don’t believe in climate change but still say they want action to stop it. Can we replicate that here?  Again, an interesting result.

We also asked about how people thought the British climate is likely to change and who is trusted to give information about climate change.

Climate change or economic recovery?

The political battle about climate change is no longer whether it exists and whether we should take action to stop it. It’s now about whether taking action will require economic sacrifices, and if so, whether those sacrifices are worth making.

Campaigners, like Friends of the Earth, have been arguing that green industries are already creating jobs, and should get more support from the government.

We tested whether people believe tackling climate change should take a lower priority than promoting growth, and whether they take seriously the idea of a green recovery.

Over the next few days, Carbon Brief is publishing the full results, along with several blogs on different aspects of it (which I’ll cross-post here). I’ll be publishing a second blog next week, comparing Carbon Brief’s results to other polls on climate change. In the meantime, I’ll go back to worrying about whether we got the question order right.


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