Polling indicates belief in climate change has risen - so why does the Sunday Times describe it as 'cooling off'?
- 25 Jun 2012, 15:00
- Robin Webster
Last year the Sunday Times decided not to report the
results of a survey it commissioned, which showed that
a majority of the British public supports an
expansion of renewable power.
Now, it has apparently repeated the trick, polling people
over their belief in climate change and attitudes towards different
energy sources, and then only reporting half of the results - and
those with a very particular spin.
Belief in global warming
The results of the survey, undertaken on
21st-22nd June this year, are reported in a
pull-out fact box in
yesterday's Sunday Times.
Under the headline '
Cooling off', the Sunday Times announces:
"Less than half the public believe climate change
is man-made, according to a new poll." It adds:
"The YouGov survey for The Sunday
Times reveals just 43% think human activity is making the world
warmer. This compares with 55% when the same question was asked in
2008. The number who believe the world is not becoming warmer has
risen from 7% to 15%."
We turned to the
full version of the study as reported
by YouGov to see if there was any more detail, and
found some interesting results oddly absent from the Sunday Times
In its report
on the survey, rather than comparing climate
change belief with statistics from 2008 as the Sunday Times has
done, pollsters YouGov compare the results with the last time they
asked the questions in 2010.
The comparison actually shows that more people now think the
world is warming because of human activity than in 2010. (4% more).
Slightly more people also think that the world is becoming warmer -
but not because of human activity (2% more). Compared to 2010,
slightly fewer people think that the world is not warming (3%
Perhaps the most obvious story that could have been written
from these results is 'Belief in climate change
But the Sunday Times chose to go with the headline 'Cooling
off - Less than half the public believe climate change is
man-made'. The second part is correct, but in order to justify the
'cooling off' statement, it went back an extra two years to 2008,
comparing with a time when public belief in climate change was
higher than it is now.
So perhaps the fullest story would have been
'Belief in climate change rising, but still lower than it was
four years ago'?
Or as YouGov puts it in its conclusion:
"While the trend here is towards belief
in manmade global warming, it is still lower than the same question
was showing in 2008, when 55% of British people thought the world
was getting warmer due to man's activity."
The full results look like this:
March 7-11 2008
Oct 25-26 2010
June 21-22 2012
|The world is becoming warmer as a result of human
|The world is becoming warmer but NOT because of human
|The world is NOT becoming warmer
Numbers indicate percentage of respondents.
Support for renewable energy
The next bit of the poll is perhaps made more interesting by
the Sunday Times's decision to not report it. The survey asked
about public attitudes towards different energy
"Which of the following systems of energy
generation would you like to see used MORE in the world
The results look like this:
Solar power - 67
Wave/ tidal power -58
Wind power -44
Hydroelectric - 43
Nuclear power - 25
Gas - 5
Coal - 5
Oil - 1
None of the above - 1
Don't know - 8
(Per cent. Respondents were asked to choose up to three
So, for example, nearly nine times as many respondents
expressed a preference for more wind power generation around the
world than for more gas power.
Strong support for renewables is reflected - although to a
slightly lesser extent - in the responses to the question about
which two or three technologies respondents would most like to see
Oil - 61
Coal - 55
Nuclear power - 35
Gas - 35
Wind power - 15
Wave/ tidal power - 2
Solar power - 2
Hydro-electric - 1
None of the above - 2
Don't know - 10
(Per cent as before.)
The Sunday Times's spin on the poll results isn't the first
time it hasn't been entirely forthcoming with polling
In November last year, the paper
commissioned a similar survey from YouGov, again including
questions about the level of support for renewable
The results also indicated a strong support for renewable
energy - for example, 60 per cent of people expressed support for
wind power subsidies.
The Sunday Times chose not to report those results either,
although when the raw polling was released by YouGov a few days
Guardian did instead.
Narrative and numbers
Polls about renewables and climate change are a
well-established method of getting an easy news story, and there's
nothing particularly new about selective or partial reporting of
It's interesting though that the Sunday Times -
a paper which has
recently been pushing an
anti-renewables line - is interested enough
in the matter to regularly poll public opinion on climate change
and energy issues. But it then appears reluctant to report the
results when they run counter to its editoral line.
If the results start to run the other way at some point,
will the Sunday Times report them more fully?