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Dec 2, 2009

Abbott, ETS and the imaginary backlash

I had this in the Crikey email today - since it's free on the main Crikey site, I'll post it here as well. The ascension of Tony Abbott to the Liberal Party leadership was l

Possum Comitatus — Editor of Pollytics

Possum Comitatus

Editor of Pollytics

I had this in the Crikey email today – since it’s free on the main Crikey site, I’ll post it here as well.

The ascension of Tony Abbott to the Liberal Party leadership was launched out of a wave of hysteria gripping some parts of conservative Australia over climate change and emissions trading. The deluge of emails, letters and phone calls into the offices of coalition members — so we’re told — signified a revolt! That’s all very good and well, but if we used local contact with politicians as a yardstick for public views on any particular issue, then we’d all be wandering around believing that 80% of the country is the victim of some vast conspiracy perpetrated by the Child Support Agency.

Angry, noisy people  — usually with minority held opinions — are the ones that overwhelmingly get agitated enough about issues to start writing stern letters to politicians. So it is with emissions trading.

Nielsen asked the same question in two polls 16 months apart to gauge public opinion on a generic emissions trading scheme — not any particular system like the CPRS — just a broad generic question testing opinion on the whole general idea of an ETS. The first was back in July of 2008 and the most recent was last weekend.

One of the fantasies that you hear regularly from the wingnut end of the media, is the idea that there is this huge public backlash starting to form against climate change in general and emissions trading in particular. The problem is it just doesn’t exist. If we compare the change that’s occurred in the Total Support and Total Oppose responses over the past 16 months on the question of a generic ETS, the results speak for themselves.


Total Support for a generic ETS has dropped by 2 points — not a significant change. What has occurred though is that the “Don’t Know” camp has crystallised out into opposition to any ETS.

If we break down these results by party voter, it starts to become clearer.


Majorities of both voting blocks show generic support for an ETS. This is where Abbott’s railing against an ETS becomes dangerous for the Liberal Party, for he’s effectively arguing against the opinion held by a majority of his party’s voters. If we break this down into age groups, it paints an even more dangerous picture.


The coalition has been weak among younger voters for a while and that group is more likely to vote on the basis of climate change than any other cohort — yet 18-39-year-olds have actually increased their support for a generic ETS significantly over the past 16 months. Abbott is effectively chasing a demographic set with his bullish anti-ETS position (the over 40s) that cannot win him an election. Yet he risks alienating a group — the under 40s —  that can lose him as many elections as he can count.

What really puts some proper context to this fanciful talk of a backlash against climate change and emissions trading is looking at the net support level of a generic ETS by major cohorts, using the last poll.


Abbott, by going in hard against emissions trading, is on the wrong side of public opinion by at least 35 points in every demographic —  going as high as 58. For all the climate change denialists running around the place in the Coalition — here’s some more food for thought. Nielsen asked “which of the following statements best describes your view …” and gave three alternative responses.

1. Australia should introduce an Emissions Trading Scheme as soon as possible.
2. Australia should wait until the Copenhagen climate change conference shows what other countries are doing.
3. Australia should not introduce an Emissions Trading Scheme.

The results by party vote come in like this:


Only 14% of coalition voters want no ETS at all. Abbott will run into the same problem as Turnbull did when he’s forced to devise his own post-Copenhagen climate change policy — a large proportion of the coalition party room he now leads is on a completely different planet when it comes to the views of not only the broader Australian public, but the views of coalition voters.

That deluge of complaints they experienced last week wasn’t representative of anything other than a small, angry and noisy conservative rump.

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14 thoughts on “Abbott, ETS and the imaginary backlash

  1. Christopia » Blog Archive » Tony Abbott And The Missing Warming Sceptics

    […] problem for Tony Abbott is there is no backlash. The blog Pollytics published polls that show in every single demographic a majority of people support an ETS. […]

  2. Chasing the Norm » Blog Archive » Battlelines: Where the election will be fought

    […] is that it is unfertile ground for winning votes. For both groups. As Possum Pollytics helpfully notes views on climate change are effectively locked in. The deniers are stuck fast, and whilst the […]

  3. Jaeger

    Cud @ 10, not always. Judith Troeth also professed to not be a scientist but went on to deliver an insightful, non-denialist, pro-ETS speech. She crossed the floor to vote for the ETS (as did Sue Boyce), and went on The 7:30 Report to state that Abbott was running a scare campaign by calling ETS a “great big tax”. It’s a pity the other pro-ETS Liberals lacked the courage/conviction/spine to nail their colours to the mast too.

  4. Rod Hagen


    The figures worry me none the less.

    Lets face it. We’ve known about this stuff for one heck of a long time. Discussion of the probablye impact of CO2 induced climate change was commonplace in scientific circles in the 1980’s (Heck, I first heard about the potential for it at high school in 1969!) .

    It was clearly established by the 1990’s. We’ve wasted nearly twenty years in doing anything whatsoever to deal with it for nearly two decades since then.

    We now sit on the cusp of catastrophe and yet more than half of the members of the Liberal Party, and nearly half of the people who vote for them, are still saying “Let’s wait and see what happens”. Moreover the poll indicates that MORE of them are thinking this way this year than last!

    An ETS is a partial solution to a horrendous problem, but even achieving this first basic step seems to be harder to achieve than wringing blood from a stone, and is getting harder, not easier, in the Australian political context as time passes.

    It is pretty clear the “message” is not being well sold on this. Sure, I can understand the Labor Party’s desire to let the Libs “take the heat” for their silliness over such things, but if you take a “big picture” view of such things the pleasure that they take in doing so gets us nowhere in beginning to properly address the matter.

    I’d hate to see the current polls drift any further on this stuff. ANY shift in the wrong direction is cause for concern and the government, the scientists, and the media should see it as such. It really isn’t something that we have time to play around with any more.

  5. cud chewer

    David @6, one thing I’ve noticed, especially among speeches, is the strategy of going “I don’t pretend to be a scientist”.. and then going on to espouse denialist rubbish, often naming people like Plimer as authorities. The guy that really intrigues me is Fielding. He carries around a bit of cardboard with the now infamous bit of cherry picking (1998-2007 temperatures). Surely to god Fielding knows by now that that is a lie. Its one thing to get fooled once, but you’d think someone like Fielding will have had the error explained to him a hundred times. Yet, he still persists.. Is he brain dead because of his religious experience, or is he being knowingly fraudulent?

    Its intellectual dishonest that makes me retch, and there is no shortage of it in the conservative side of politics. Bite me.

  6. cud chewer

    What was that bit of polling that four corners did?

  7. Tony Abbott And The Missing Warming Sceptics « Log My Blog BLOG!

    […] problem for Tony Abbott is there is no backlash. The blog Pollytics published polls that show in every single demographic a majority of people support an ETS. […]

  8. Tweets that mention Abbott, ETS and the imaginary backlash – Pollytics --

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by FastFood Bob, Andrew Hastings. Andrew Hastings said: Abbott, ETS and the imaginary backlash by @Pollytics . Beautiful. […]

  9. David Richards

    The lack of scientific knowledge by most of those on the denial side is staggering. Then there are those who do have a knowledge of science, but choose to discard what they know for their own purposes.

  10. Human activities are the primary driver |

    […] has a great article on the fraud that is the “anti-climate action community backlash“, with the results: Total Support for a generic ETS has dropped by 2 points — not a […]

  11. quantize

    Nicolas Stern said as much… ‘the denialist volume has just gotten louder before Copenhagen..the claims are not based on properly reviewed and accepted science’

  12. fredex

    Brilliant Poss.
    Not so brilliant Abbott.

  13. Will

    Well the Mad Monk has gone and decided that there will be no ETS at all, not even Howard’s old policy (which they basically rejected today anyway). He is going to put all his eggs in to the nuclear basket.

  14. Aristotle

    [That deluge of complaints they experienced last week wasn’t representative of anything other than a small, angry and noisy conservative rump.]


    On a similar theme, this might be of interest to your readers:

    “Some very sobering numbers.”