Following on from yesterday’s Essential Report result which looked at public support for nuclear power in Australia, it might be time to take a quick squiz at how similar polls have played out over the last few years.

If we look at the domestic polls that have canvassed public support for nuclear power in Australia over the last few years, something a little interesting pops up.

(The Newspoll (TAI) poll was commissioned by The Australia Institute.)

Statistically speaking, support for nuclear power hasn’t changed over the last 3 years. There’s a good chunk of variance in the level of support over time, but no discernible trend that is statistically different from zero.

Also worth noting is that we are approaching this with something of a handicap as far as the strength of the statistical relationships we can draw are concerned. The polls here often used differently worded questions – so while the polls will give us broadly comparable answers, they won’t be specifically comparable answers. As a consequence, we would expect more variation in the results than we would if the same question had been asked in every poll. We also have the problem of any house effects that each pollster may exhibit interfering with the results even further.

Yet there are two trends which are probably occurring. The proportion of the electorate that is undecided on domestic nuclear power generation is slowly and consistently increasing through time. If the increase in that generic undecided level was a result of just sampling error and question framing, we would expect to see the values of that generic undecided level to be a bit more variable – a few more higher scores on the left and/or a few more lower scores on the right. What we get instead is a near perfect growth in the level of undecideds with only the Feb 2007 Gallup bucking the trend. What we see from the growth in the level of undecideds is what we would expect to see if the undecideds were actually increasing through time.

The other trend which is probably occurring is a slight reduction in the proportion of the population that oppose domestic nuclear power generation. Although it’s also worth noting that while it’s probably occurring, it’s not as likely to be occurring as the growth in undecideds.

In net terms, we can say that it’s likely that an increasing number of people are becoming more open to the possibility of nuclear power in Australia and that a large chunk of this increase is coming from a reduction in the size of opposition to nuclear power.

We can actually delve down a little further and go to the strength of support and opposition using the Newspoll and Essential Research surveys.

Here it seems that while overall support is remaining fairly static, there may be a small increase over time in general (or weak) support – although it could just be noise. With the opposition to nuclear power however, there seems to have been a fairly sharp drop in the proportion of the electorate that is strongly opposed to nuclear power in Australia.

Overall opposition to nuclear power appears to be weakening, the strength of opposition to nuclear power appears to be weakening – and while that seems to have led to an increase in the size of those undecided about nuclear power, it is too early to tell whether it has also flowed through to actual increased support (even though theĀ  latest poll certainly suggests it has).

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