In recent months, environmentalism has surged to the core of the UK Government’s coronavirus economic recovery plan, and it has played a prominent role in Government messaging. The ‘Green Industrial Revolution’ aims to create “250,000 green jobs” and “spur over three times as much private sector investment by 2030.” However, despite the Government’s environmentalist turn, activist groups have continued to protest and demand more immediate and drastic action than what the Government has proposed. 

Almost half (47%) of the British public claim they have strong opinions on environmental issues, while a significant 37% claim to have no strong opinions on the subject. 

Older respondents are more likely to say that they have no strong opinions on environmental issues than younger people: 47% of those 65 and over say they have no strong opinions, compared to just a fifth (20%) of 18-to-24-year-olds. Overall, whereas younger people are significantly more likely to say they have strong opinions than to say they don’t, older respondents are divided somewhat more evenly.

2019 Conservative voters are split, with a significant 43% saying they have strong opinions and 45% saying they have no strong opinions on environmental issues. By contrast, a majority (55%) of 2019 Labour voters say they have strong opinions on environmental issues, whereas less than a third (30%) say they do not. In many ways, this split mirrors the age split explained above, amplified by Labour voters on average being younger than Conservative voters. 

45% of British voters claim a political party’s environmental policies matter to them ‘quite a lot’ or ‘a great deal’ when deciding whether or not to vote for them. A further third (36%) say these policies matter to them to ‘some’ extent, and 20% say they matter ‘very little’ or ‘not at all.’ Therefore, while a substantial minority says they do not have strong opinions on environmental issues themselves, environmental policy still appears to have a fairly significant impact on how many individuals claim they decide how to vote.

The majority of 2019 Labour voters (52%) say a political party’s environmental policies matter to them ‘quite a lot’ or a ‘great deal’ when deciding whether or not to vote for them, compared to 43% of 2019 Conservative voters. Overall, only a small minority of 2019 Labour voters (11%) and 2019 Conservative voters (20%) say environmental policies matter to them ‘very little’ or ‘not at all,’ suggesting that environmental policy is considered important irrespective of party when it comes to recent voters of Britain’s two major parties.

Further, half (52%) of the British public say they find it easy to talk to people about environmental issues and to candidly express their views, while 28% find it difficult. A fifth (20%) say they don’t know.

Younger people are slightly less likely to say they find it easy to talk to people about environmental issues and express their views, with 46% of 18-to-24-year-olds saying they find it easy, compared to 58% of 55-to-64-year-olds.

The vast majority (71%) of those who say they have strong opinions on environmental issues say they find it easy to talk about environmental issues and candidly express their views, whereas just a fifth (21%) say they find it difficult. By contrast, those that say they have no strong opinions on environmental issues are more divided, with 38% saying they find it easy to talk to people about environmental issues and to candidly express their views, while 40% say they find it difficult. This result suggests that those who do not hold particular strong opinions on environmental issues may find it difficult to talk to others about it either because they do not know enough to talk about environmental issues, because they do not think they can candidly express the fact that they do not hold strong views, or because they are intimidated by those who have stronger opinions. 

Half (49%) of the British public say that the people they surround themselves with generally have the same views as they do on the environment, suggesting either widespread agreement on environmental issues or a sort of ideological homogeneity. However, as many as a quarter (27%) say the people they surround themselves with generally have different views on the environment, and a further quarter (24%) don’t know.

17% of Britons say they do see themselves as environmental activists, while only 8% say they do not care about the environment that much. Instead, the great majority (68%) say they care about the environment but do not see themselves as environmental activists.

Younger people are slightly more likely to say they see themselves as environmental activists, with a quarter (26%) of 18-to-24-year-olds saying they care about the environment and see themselves as environmental activists, compared to 14% of those 65 and over. Nevertheless, a majority of each age group and of voters of both the Conservative and Labour parties say they care about the environment but do not see themselves as environmental activists, suggesting that while concern for the environment is high, most do not identify with activist groups.

One possible reason why many Britons do not see themselves as environmental activists is that activism has increasingly become associated with groups such as Extinction Rebellion, whose goal essentially consists of a relatively radical reordering of society and the economy in order to help limit climate change. This message is of more limited resonance with the British public as a whole, given that our research finds that 41% think gradual changes in the way we live will be enough to address the environmental issues we face, whereas 44% think immediate change is required. 

In particular, half (49%) of 2019 Conservative voters favour gradual changes and 38% think immediate changes are the only option in order to address the environmental issues we face. These figures contrast with how half of 2019 Labour voters (50%) think only immediate changes will suffice, whereas 36% think gradual changes will be enough. Thus, we find that the voters of both parties are rather divided about whether radical and immediate solutions are actually necessary. 

This divide is further illustrated by how a slight plurality (43%) would prioritise immediate, large-scale changes introduced by the Government, while 39% would prioritise gradual, small-scale changes introduced by citizens and local communities. 

Interestingly, 57% of those who say they have strong opinions on environmental issues think that only immediate changes will suffice, which is significantly higher than the 34% of those without strong opinions on the environment who think immediate changes are the only approach that could succeed. Indeed, among those who claim not to have strong opinions, almost half (48%) think that gradual changes in the way we live are sufficient. Thus, the numbers suggest that greater levels of interest in environmental issues are linked to being more likely to think that immediate (rather than gradual) changes to how we live are the only way to avert an environmental catastrophe.

Ultimately, Britons say they care about environmental policy, though many do not necessarily consider themselves to have strong opinions on the matter and most do not consider themselves environmental activists. Younger people are slightly more likely to say they have strong opinions on environmental issues and to consider themselves environmental activists than older people, but the vast majority across age groups and political affiliations say they care about the environment. The public are more divided on whether environmental issues should be addressed through gradual, smaller changes implemented by individuals and local communities or through large-scale immediate changes implemented by the Government, with slight differences between 2019 Conservative and Labour voters.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

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