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Will slamming the breaks on climate clinch support for Sunak?

Chris Holbrook Find Out Now Market Research

Chris Holbrook

9th Aug, 2023 | 4 mins read

On the 28th July, Rishi Sunak issued more then 100 new oil and natural gas extraction licences to help alleviate the cost of living crisis (Reuters). The Uxbridge and South Ruislip for the Tories, widely attributed to a backlash against ULEZ expansion, exposes a preference for maintaining living standards over enacting climate policies. We conducted a nationally representative poll of 2,213 GB adults to see how far the British electorate will go to support climate policies, in the face of the cost-of-living crisis.

We asked our panel: Considering the UK government’s economic challenges, and its climate commitments, along with Rishi Sunak’s plan to issue new oil and gas licence in the North Sea, which statement do you agree with the most?

We should stop all drilling in the North Sea ASAP10.8%
We shouldn’t issue new licenses for drilling, but carry on existing drilling while phasing out fossil fuels20.3%
We should subsidise green energy and let the market deal with the climate change problem6.2%
Issue new licenses for oil and gas with the aim of bringing prices down now, and deal with climate change in the future17.8%
Climate change is not/will not be serious issue and the government should not act on it4.3%
I don’t know40.6%

By far the most common answer was “I don’t know”, from two-fifths of respondents, suggesting the UK electorate is still confused as to what the UK’s climate response should be. Either the press, political parties, and civil society does not communicate the information needed to make a decision, or it’s not being understood.

Amongst those who expressed an opinion, a third think the government should go further than Sunak, including 18.9% who want new licenses to be stopped, and 11.4% who want to stop drilling entirely. Only 17.6% are in favour of Sunak’s policy to issue new licences in the North Sea.

It is the clear that the electorate doesn’t trust the market to fix the problems, even with green energy subsidies (6.2%), and there remains a stubborn 4.3% who still don’t believe the science, which is consistent with other polling climate change opinion polling.

The difference between 2019 voters of Labour and Conservatives are striking. With support for halting all extraction at 1.7% and 23.9% for Conservative and Labour respectively, and with the Conservatives being more supportive of issuing new licences at 37.7% compared with Labour’s 6.1%. While Sunak’s policy is not aligned with the UK electorate as a whole, it does seem to resonate with the 2019 Conservative voters that have been turning their backs on the party.

Full results table can be downloaded here

Photo by Melissa Bradley on Unsplash