The latest annual poll by the Australian thinktank, the Lowy Institute, suggests a dramatic fall in concern about climate change. It’s usually a good rule that the more interesting a poll, is the less likely it is to be a good representation of public opinion, and the new Lowry poll has indeed been challenged.
But while some of the criticisms of the poll seem fair, I suggest that dismissing it would be a mistake.
At the heart of the debate is data that appear to suggest that Australians’ concern about climate change has plummeted in recent years. The same question has been used in the annual polls for several years, allowing a comparison of attitudes over time.
The resulting chart is this:
Which immediately suggests a dramatic fall in concern about climate change: from nearly 7 in 10 wanting action even at significant cost in 2006, to only 4 in 10 saying the same now.
The main challenge to the data has been on the basis of the structure of the question. Joseph Reser at Griffith University, has argued both that the length of the questions is a problem, and that the answer choices “contain multiple and emotional button-pressing matters and language”.
The result, he argues, is that the poll fails to measure the public’s understanding or perceptions of risk in an issue as complex as climate change. Significantly, it also appears to show a lower level of concern than is identified in other polls that individually examine different aspects of attitudes to the issue.
All of this seems fair. The question wording is indeed long, and it does contain some emotive language. But I don’t think that makes the result any less interesting or important.