A new poll of UK Members of Parliament has found widespread
doubts about climate science, particularly among Conservative
The poll, conducted for PR Week by Populus and
reported in the Guardian yesterday, found that 51 per cent of
MPs think that man-made climate change is “an established
scientific fact”. Two in five think it is a theory that “has not
yet been conclusively proved”, while nearly one in ten say man-made
climate change is “environmentalist propaganda”.
The findings suggest that MPs have similar views on climate
science to those of the general public. A poll in August 2013 by
Opinium for Carbon Brief, with similar questions,
found that 56 per cent believe that climate change is happening
and is caused by humans.
MP attitudes on climate change (Populus, 2014) and public
But the new poll shows dramatic contrasts in attitudes of MPs of
different parties. While 73 per cent of Labour MPs think man-made
climate change is a scientific fact, only three in ten Conservative
MPs say the same. Nearly one in five Conservative MPs say they
think it is purely propaganda.
Conservative and Labour MP views on climate change (Populus,
The sample of Liberal Democrats is too small for meaningful
analysis. While the sample of the other main parties is larger, it
still gives a margin of error of around +/- 12 points for
Conservative MPs and +/- 13 points for Labour MPs. Nevertheless,
the gap in the results is large enough to suggest that Conservative
MPs have views about climate science that are, on average, very
different from those of the general public.
Such a level of doubt about climate science among Conservatives
might appear surprising. When the Climate Change Act
was passed in October 2008, only three Conservative MPs voted
But this is not the first polling evidence of such views among
Conservative MPs about energy and climate change. A separate poll
of MPs, conducted in July 2014 by ComRes, found similar differences
in opinions about renewable energy.
that poll, just 16 per cent of Conservative MPs support the use
of onshore wind power. In contrast, more than three quarters of
Labour MPs said they supported onshore wind, while
a parallel poll conducted at the same time found that two
thirds of the public agreed.
The same applies with local onshore wind developments. The
ComRes polls found that 12 per cent of Conservative MPs would
support such developments, compared with nearly three in four
Labour MPs, and over three in five members of the public.
Before the 2010 General Election,
a survey of Conservative candidates in the party’s most
winnable seats found that reducing Britain’s carbon footprint was
their lowest priority out of 19 tested. Just eight of the 141
candidates listed it among their top five priorities.
Do the results stack up?
So can we conclude Conservative MPs are unusually relaxed about
climate change? There are some reasons to be cautious about the
findings of the recent polling – but none are enough to discount
At an average of
54 years old, MPs are substantially older than the average
person. Older people are less likely to be concerned about climate
change, so part of the difference might be explained by the age
gap. Yet, even if Conservative MPs are on average older than other
MPs, they are still substantially more doubtful about climate
change than even the oldest groups of the public.
Equally, Conservative MPs are more likely to represent rural
constituencies, which perhaps feeds their opposition to wind farms.
Yet just being rural is not enough to explain their opposition to
onshore wind: a member of the public living in a rural area is more
than four times as likely to support local wind farms than a
Conservative MP is to do the same, according to the ComRes
Perhaps the biggest weakness in the data may be how MPs are
selected to complete the polls. Both polls are conducted from the
agencies’ panels of MPs, with the results weighted to be
representative of the party balance of the House of Commons. But
there is no guarantee that the selection of MPs provides the basis
for a representative sample.
In fact, it seems likely that the MPs who complete such polls
are ones with relatively more time to spare, which probably means
those not in government. A Populus spokesperson said they “receive
responses from some members of the government”, but that the
proportion from the government “won’t be huge”. It has
been suggested that as many as half of Conservative MPs now
hold government positions.
It may be then, that these polls are better understood as being
of backbenchers, rather than as being representative of the parties
Even if this is the case, the results suggest that Conservative
MPs – backbenchers or otherwise – have views about climate change
and renewable energy that are very different from the average views
of other politicians and members of the public.
Leo Barasi writes on campaigns and public opinion about
politics and climate change at Noise of the