Is the IPA’s climate change poll plausible?

In a Club Troppo comment, online pollster Graham Young questions recent IPA polling on climate change:

From my research it is certainly true that there has been a decline in support in Australia for the proposition that manmade climate change will be catastrophic. And when you ask questions designed to find how high a priority it is, you find Australians aren’t prepared to pay or do much to avoid it. But the IPA poll has a much larger collapse than I would have thought possible.

I’ve tried to compare the IPA’s 2010 results with the Lowy Poll’s 2008 results on how much extra people are prepared to pay to combat climate change. I had to convert Lowy’s monthly question to match the IPA’s annual question, and so the categories are not an exact match. But as you can see in the table below, particularly by comparing the cumulative totals, the overall patterns are quite similar.

The main difference is that the IPA found significantly more people willing to pay nothing at all. But if we add together the people willing to pay nothing with those only willing to pay a trivial amount we have a consistent just under half of the population who oppose all but the most trivial climate change measures.

IPA question: To generate cleaner energy and fight global warming, it might cost Australians more money each year in taxes and utility costs. How much more are you willing to pay each year in higher taxes and utility costs?
Lowy question: One suggested way of tackling climate change is to increase the price of electricity. If it helped solve climate change, how much extra would you be willing to pay each month on your electricity bill?

What this suggests, consistent with other polls is that people with weak beliefs are now tending towards opposing climate change policy.

The IPA’s other question was on the causes of climate change. It found 35% believing man’s emissions are to blame, 26% believing in natural causes, and 38% not sure because there is ‘conflicting evidence’. Though as far as I know no Australian pollster has given these options before, these results aren’t necessarily highly inconsistent with previous findings.

For example, a 2008 Newspoll found that 32% of its respondents believed climate change was entirely caused by human activity, while another 64% believed that it was partly caused by human activity. And that isn’t too far from Graham’s January 2010 result of 31% of his respondents ‘strongly’ agreeing that climate change is manmade.

This is a subject on which only a tiny minority of people are in a position to make an independent judgment. It is not surprising that the response that sounded most like ‘I’m not sure’ while not admitting complete ignorance (‘conflicting evidence’) was popular in the IPA survey. It isn’t inconsistent with another poll in the near future finding the largest group still favouring action on climate – albeit only when they don’t have to pay much for it.

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