Poll Shows Public Frustration On Climate Change Discussion

Media Appearances, Climate, Frontier Centre

Canadians are deeply frustrated with politicians’ talk of global warming and climate change, and only slightly less rankled by the media’s uneven reporting on the matter, according to a poll finished earlier this week.

Canada-wide, two-thirds of those polled lambasted politicians of all stripes for turning out poor-to-bad explanations of global warming and climate change issues, according to a COMPAS Research poll completed for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy on Sept. 29, 2008.

“Even those who intend to vote Green and believe human activity is solely responsible for global warming think politicians have done an abysmal job of providing evidence to back up their proposals,” Mark Milke, the conservative think-tank’s research director, said in a prepared statement.

Across the country, disapproval was nowhere greater than on the prairies, where 58% of those canvassed said Canada’s politicians did a poor or “very poor” job of raising evidence for their proposals to cut greenhouse gases and impose taxes on carbon-based fuels. On that score, fewer than one in five or 19% of respondents rated politicians’ performance as “good” or better.

While those surveyed tended to believe human activity is responsible for global warming and climate change, they did not view the matter as settled. By more than a four-to-one margin, Canadians called on the media to provide more multi-sided reporting on the issue, the poll indicated.

If the survey is any indication, the media’s record on the topic is not pretty, especially when it comes to explaining both sides of the controversial debate. In particular, those responding said journalists did a far better job of conveying the anthropogenic view — that climate change is driven by human activity — than the skeptics’ view, which traces the causes to other factors.

Asked to say whether or not they knew of media reports on three anthropogenic perspectives and three sceptics’ perspectives, the vast majority of Canadians polled — 91% — said they’d seen or heard media reports on key anthropogenic reasons, but less than half or 42% of the group were familiar with reports that attributed climate change to causes other than human activity.

The view that Canadians are entitled to better reporting from the media on these issues cuts across political lines, with 81% of those planning to vote Conservative in the next federal election agreeing that the public “has a right to more, fair and objective information from the media” on all sides of the debate. Those pledging allegiance to the Green Party polled the same percentage agreeing to the statement.

“That should tell you … how badly the discussion has been handled to date,” said Milke. “It appears the public is very fair in wanting to see and hear all scientific and professional sides in the debate over global warming,” he added, noting the poll shows 62% of Canadians believe global warming and/or climate change is taking place as a result of human actions.

When it comes to their view of politicians, Quebecers were among the least critical, at least on climate change issues. Of all provinces, less than one-third or 30% of Quebecers polled said politicians had done a poor job of mustering evidence to justify their proposals for resolving climate change. Quebec also set a high-water mark in terms of approval of politicians’ explanations, with one-quarter of respondents saying politicians had done a good or very good job of providing evidence for their climate-change proposals.

British Columbians were also relatively positive in assessing politicians’ performance on the issues, with almost one-quarter or 24% indicating politicians had done a good, very good or excellent job in justifying their climate-change proposals.

In winding up its report on the COMPAS Research poll, the Frontier Centre’s authors said the poll shows that media reports are the key driver of public opinion, and concluded that those of the public who have seen reports voicing the views of climate-change skeptics evaluate those views “much more sympathetically than those who have not” seen the reports.