Can the Conservatives win in 2019 by running against carbon pricing? It’s no slam dunk.

November 4, 2018

By Bruce Anderson & David Coletto

In our latest national survey, we asked respondents a series of questions about climate change, the federal approach to deal with the issue, and what they know and think about the federal leaders and their approach to climate change.

Here’s what we found:

THE SCALE OF THE CLIMATE ISSUE

Eighty percent of Canadians believe climate change is a very big or moderately big problem today. Only one in five say it is a small problem or not a problem. Well known partisan and regional differences exist on this issue: Conservatives and Prairie residents are less preoccupied with the issue. However, this offers a warning signal for advocates at either end of the on the climate change debate spectrum.

• Among Conservative partisans, only half think the climate is not really a problem. Among Albertans, 59% say climate change is a moderately big or very big problem. Conservative leaders who appear to be dismissive of the issue may find some of their base unhappy at that choice

• On the other hand, some environmental advocates may want to reflect on the fact that after decades of strident advocacy many voters see it as an important problem – among others – to be considered by political leaders.

• As the Liberals consider strategy in the run-up to the election, they will note that “Orange Persuadables” (voters leaning NDP but saying they could consider the Liberals) are 10 points more likely than average to say that climate change is a very big problem. Among Blue Persuadables, one in four say climate change is a very big problem. In other words, if the election looks like it is turning into a binary choice between a Liberal Party with a climate agenda and a Conservative Party that is almost silent on the issue, there are votes that could coalesce to the Liberals’ advantage.

• Women are 9 points more likely than men to say climate change is a very big problem. Differences in concern by generation are modest. For Conservative strategists, a lack of climate policies could exacerbate a gender challenge and with no particular upside among older voters.

BELIEF IN CLIMATE CHANGE EVIDENCE

Two-thirds of Canadians feel there is conclusive or solid evidence that the earth is warming. Only 9% say there is little or no evidence. Half of those inclined to vote Conservative say the evidence of climate change is now conclusive or solid. Half of Alberta voters also believe this.

More than 9 in 10 people believe that if the planet is warming, humans are at least part of the problem, and two-thirds call human and industrial activity such as the burning of fossil fuels a major or significant cause. Among Conservative voters, only 14% deny any impact of human and industrial activity, and only 11% of Albertans feel that way.

Broadly, Canadians also believe that it is possible to reduce the effects of climate change. This includes about 6 in 10 Alberta and Conservative voters.


REACTIONS TO FEDERAL CLIMATE PRICING POLICY

We provided a basic description of the federal policy approach to pricing carbon and asked for reactions. Fifty-nine percent (59%) thought it was a step in the right direction including roughly half of those living on the Prairies, a third of Conservative voters, and two-thirds of NDP voters.


A second question included information about the rebate to affected households and found discomfort with the federal policy dropped to 24%. Strong support at 18% was larger than strong opposition (11%). Half of Conservative supporters and about two-thirds of Prairie residents say they support or can accept this approach. In Ontario, support is twice as common as opposition.

While opposition to the federal approach is softer than some might imagine, support for the policy isn’t overwhelming or unqualified. Half think it will increase the cost of living, which given the importance of cost of living issues these days remains a significant risk for advocates of this policy. The fact that only a third are convinced this policy will lead to reduced carbon emissions is an important signal to federal advocates as well.

While people aren’t sure how much it will help innovation and economic growth, they are clearly more likely to believe the effect will be a positive one than a negative one. Only 11% think it will be harmful to the health of the economy in the future.

Asked if they would vote for this policy if they were a Member of Parliament, 57% say they would vote to pass it, including 79% of Liberal voters, 68% of NDP voters and 30% of Conservative voters.

In BC, 68% say they would endorse the federal approach, and just under 60% of voters in Quebec and Ontario say they would be a “yea” if they were MPs.

LEADERS AND ELECTORAL POLITICS

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, has said that his first priority, if he wins the election in 2019, would be to abolish the federal carbon price, signaling an intention to make this a central campaign issue.

But today, only 7% say carbon pricing will be the most important issue to them, another 54% say it will be a factor, while more than a third say this policy will play a small role in their voting choice.

Among Conservatives, only 12% say it will be the most important issue. Among those who think the carbon price is a step in the wrong direction, only 1 in 10 says it will determine their vote.

Most people think Prime Minister Justin Trudeau believes climate change is happening and is caused by human activities. Voters are less sure what Jagmeet Singh feels. As many think Andrew Scheer is a climate change denier as think he believes there is a problem and humans contribute to it.

The plurality believes that Justin Trudeau is committed to doing everything he can to solve climate change. Most people can’t say whether Jagmeet Singh has this level of commitment and views of Andrew Scheer show more doubt than confidence in Mr. Scheer’s determination on the issue.

When asked if they are each listening to the advice of experts on the issue, the plurality believes Mr. Trudeau is doing so, while only a quarter think Jagmeet Singh and Andrew Scheer are.

When asked which leader has the best plan to deal with climate change, Mr. Trudeau was picked by 27%, Mr. Scheer by 11%, Mr. Singh by just 5%, behind Elizabeth May (9%).

Among those who say carbon pricing will be a factor in how they vote, 29% felt Mr. Trudeau has the best plan followed by Mr. Scheer at 15%, Ms. May at 10%, and Mr. Singh at 5%.

Among those who voted NDP in 2015, as many say Mr. Trudeau (14%) has the best plan as say Jagmeet Singh does (13%). Among Conservative voters, only 40% say Mr. Scheer has the best plan. Among Blue Persuadables (swing voters) just 31% say Mr. Scheer has the best plan.

THE IPCC REPORT

About a third followed the news of the most recent report of the UN Panel on Climate Change very or fairly closely and 44% said they had heard of it but didn’t really know the details. Among those aware of the report, 45% said it left them more concerned suggesting more than 8 million voters felt increased concern about climate change as a result of this report

If you combine both the awareness and impact questions, we find that 33% of Canadians said they became more concerned because of the IPCC report, 36% were aware of the report but unaffected, 4% became less concerned while 26% were unaware of the report itself.

UPSHOT

According to Bruce Anderson: ”With the cost of housing and living among the biggest concerns for Canadians, it might be easy to imagine that Canadians will rally to campaigns to kill a national carbon price. But these results say that’s far from a foregone conclusion. Many Conservative voters share a concern about the climate issue and up to half are open to the idea of pricing carbon. The idea of rebating the tax to consumers cuts resistance to carbon pricing significantly.

Moreover, Canadians are signaling that they are concerned about climate change but think there are important other issues as well. They are not inclined to want an election about carbon pricing. This is true even among those who dislike the carbon pricing idea.

The challenges faced by the NDP are clear on this issue. Many of their potential supporters do not know much about where their leader stands and are inclined to think the Liberal approach is relatively aligned with their preferences. There is no evidence in these data that environmental critics of the government have rallied British Columbians or NDP voters against the Trudeau government based on energy and pipeline issues.

For the Conservatives, fighting a new tax may feel like a promising, almost ‘can’t fail’ proposition. However, it comes with some clear risks. Today, their leader is judged to care relatively little about an issue of rising public concern and is signaling he wants to make carbon pricing a central election issue, a choice that many CPC supporters have qualms about.”

According to David Coletto: “More broadly, our poll should offer both hope and concern for advocates of climate action in Canada. While most Canadians recognize that climate change is a big problem, that the effects of climate change can be mitigated, and most favour a national carbon price, there remains many who appear either ambiguous about action or are isolated from the debate about climate change.

Consider the finding that one in four Canadians were unaware of the recent IPCC report. Despite the widespread coverage it received in the new media, many were unaware of it. Almost half of those exposed to coverage of report say they became more concerned about climate change. As fewer Canadians consume mainstream news media and rely more on their social media feeds for news and information, it’s especially important for those who want to raise awareness and support for action on climate change need to be active where people are.

Politically, although most feel the federal approach to climate action is a good step and most support or can accept the federal carbon pricing plan that includes the consumer rebate, the minority opposed is large enough to become a significant electoral voice if it’s unified and mobilized. There’s a chance that one of the key battle lines for the next election could be on how to deal with climate change and which party has the best plan to do deal with it.

The Conservatives may be able to win if they can consolidate carbon tax opponents around them, but it’s no slam dunk given that a clear majority favour action and are concerned about the issue. If this group mobilizes and consolidates around the Liberals, there’s little room for the Conservatives to win in the minority on this issue.”

METHODOLOGY

Our survey was conducted online with 1,650 Canadians aged 18 and over from October 24 to 29, 2018 as part of Abacus Data’s national omnibus survey product (find out more). A random sample of panelists was invited to complete the survey from a set of partner panels based on the Lucid exchange platform. These partners are double opt-in survey panels, blended to manage out potential skews in the data from a single source.

The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of the same size is +/- 2.2%, 19 times out of 20. The data were weighted according to census data to ensure that the sample matched Canada’s population according to age, gender, educational attainment, and region. Totals may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

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