Will climate change be a ballot box question?

Will climate change be a ballot box question?
Posted on April 17, 2019 | Abacus Data | Written on April 17, 2019
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Our most recent nationwide survey included questions on current attitudes towards climate change and benchmarked awareness of the federal carbon price backstop that will come into effect in four Canadian provinces next week.

• A total of 83% of Canadians say they are quite (26%), very (30%) or extremely (27%) concerned about climate change. Only 18% say they are not all that (12%) or not concerned (6%).

• 12% say climate change policies will be at the top of the list of considerations affecting how they will vote in the federal election this fall. Another 19% say it will be the second most important issue. A total of 69% say climate change will be a top five issue for them. The Liberals currently have a lead among those who say the issue is a top five concern and the Conservatives lead among those who consider the issue less important than that.

• Levels of concern about climate change are relatively consistent in every part of the country except for Alberta and Saskatchewan, where concern is lower and Quebec, where concern is higher. Conservative voters attach markedly lower levels of importance to the issue, but still, two-thirds of them would say climate is at least a top ten consideration, and almost half say a top-five consideration.

MOST SEE CLIMATE CHANGE AS A PRACTICAL ISSUE & ARE CONFIDENT IN SOLUTIONS

News about climate change often includes a mixture of information about the risks and stories about potential solutions. Public opinion is similarly a blend of optimism and pessimism.

Today 60% say they tend to think more confidently about the potential to solve the problem, 40% say they have more fear about what might happen if we don’t. Liberal, Conservative and Green voters are all more likely to express confidence, while New Democrats are evenly split, with as many expressing fear as confidence.

Most people also think of climate change as a practical issue (70%) while for 30% it is a more emotional one. Quebecers, female voters, NDP and Green voters are more likely to say it is an emotionally charged issue for them, compared to the average.

FEDERAL CARBON PRICE

As of April 1st, the federal carbon pricing backstop will begin to affect prices of fuel that consumers buy. In advance of that actual impact date, given the amount of political discussion of the initiative, we decided to benchmark levels of knowledge.

Here’s what we found:

• 37% in the four provinces where the backstop will go into effect say that the federal carbon tax has increased the cost of living “a lot”, 44% say “a small amount” and 19% say not really at all.

In the other provinces where the tax will not apply, perceptions are exactly the same, with 37% feeling it will increase the cost of living a lot and 44% saying a small amount. Half of Conservative voters (52%) say that the federal carbon tax has increased the cost of living a lot, and another 38% a small amount.

• Almost identical numbers say the federal carbon tax has increased the cost of gasoline by a lot (37%) or a small amount (45%). Only 19% believe that there has been no impact. Again, perceptions that the carbon tax is already driving up the cost of gas is much higher among Conservative voters.

To date, in the four provinces where the federal tax will apply:

• (47%) are aware that they are eligible to receive a climate change rebate.

• 69% in the four provinces had not yet filed their taxes, while 18% had filed and noted the rebate amount, and 13% had filed but did not notice the rebate amount.

• Among those who had not yet filed their taxes, 83% said they intended to get the rebate, once informed of it.

• Just under half (46%) think that when the federal carbon price and the federal rebate are applied, their cost of living will go up, while almost as many (44%) say things will even out, and 7% say they think they will be better off.

Overall, as of this survey, we find that 32% support “using a carbon tax as one policy measure to help reduce emissions and combat climate change” compared to 28% who oppose it. The balance of opinion is “open to accepting” the federal carbon price. Majorities across genders, generation, and all regions are open to or supportive of a carbon price. Conservative voters are evenly split with 50% opposed, 16% supportive, and 33% “open to accepting”.

UPSHOT

As the weeks count down to the next federal election it seems clear that climate change will be one of the more important issues that engage voters and separate political parties one from the other. Millions indicate that the issue is extremely important and will be one of the two most important issues that they will consider in choosing how to mark their ballot.

As things now stand those most concerned about climate change favor the Liberals over the Conservatives, but that voter group is split among NDP and Green voters as well. Among the minority who care little about the climate issue, the Conservatives are dominant.

Knowledge of the federal carbon price and rebate is shallow, especially given that at the time of this survey, many had not yet filed their taxes. Impressions are also likely impacted by critics of the policy, as many people incorrectly believe the carbon price has already driven up their cost of gasoline and living. These numbers can serve as a benchmark to see how perceptions change once the federal backstop comes into effect.

Most people say they support or can accept carbon pricing – only 28% are firmly opposed. How the experience of carbon pricing evolves in the coming months will have a lot to do with how people feel about the choices available when it comes to climate platforms in the fall general election.

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