Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

Voters feared climate policy more than climate change

Election 2019: What happened to the climate change vote we heard about?   https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-05-20/what-happened-to-the-climate-change-vote/11128128

A range of polls and surveys had left many analysts, myself included, with the sense that this would be a crucial issue at the ballot box.

The annual Lowy Institute Poll demonstrated stronger support for climate change action in Australia in 2019 than in any previous survey since 2006.

In the survey more than 60 per cent of Australians agreed with the sentiment that “Global warming is a serious and pressing problem. We should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant cost”.

And while a self-selecting sample, those filling out the ABC’s Vote Compass survey consistently emphasised climate change as a crucial issue for them at the election.

Crucially, those identifying it as the most important issue had risen from 9 per cent in 2016 to 29 per cent in 2019.

Advocacy groups and even media outlets also encouraged the view that 2019 was, and should be, Australia’s climate election.

This was prominent in pre-election statements from NGOs like ACF and Oxfam. GetUp! ran this argument strongly before and during the campaign, and The Guardian’s editorial on the eve of the election exhorted all Australians to view the election as an opportunity to vote for substantive action on climate change.

But in the end, we saw a decline in the primary vote for the Labor Opposition, who had announced a more significant reduction target than the Government and a suite of measures — from investment in renewable energy to an energy guarantee — to get there.

And we saw a rise of only around 0.5 per cent of the primary vote for the party with the most progressive and ambitious climate policy: the Greens. More consequentially, of course, we saw the re-election of a Government with limited ambition on emissions reductions.

How did this happen?

While it’s too early for fine-grained analysis, we can draw a few conclusions at this point.

First, the seats where climate change was significant as an issue at the election tells us something. As the most significant political issue for Greens supporters in the election, climate change clearly played a role in the re-election of Adam Bandt in Melbourne, and in strong primary votes for the Greens in nearby electorates of HigginsKooyong and Macnamara.

In Sydney, it was clearly prominent in Wentworth (undecided at the time of writing), and most prominently Warringah where Zali Steggall won the seat from Tony Abbott.

In Warringah, not only was the LNP’s position on climate change inconsistent with the views of most in this constituency, but Mr Abbott was (rightly) seen as the chief architect of an extended period of climate inaction in Australia.

Simply put, he was (in Opposition, in Government and in public debate) the chief contributor to the toxic politics of climate change in this country over the past decade.

Mr Abbott’s re-election was, in short, a bridge too far for his constituency.

But in this case and in other inner-city seats, support for climate action looks broadly consistent with a ‘post-materialist’ sensibility.

Here the emphasis on quality of life over immediate economic and physical needs encourages a focus on issues like climate change. But this is a sensibility that speaks to those in higher socio-economic brackets, and principally with higher levels of education.

It isn’t particularly applicable to regional Queensland, for example, especially when constituents in the latter view large scale mining operations as a crucial potential source of income and employment.

Voters feared climate policy more than climate change

Second, the Lowy Institute polling data also tells us something about when climate support rises and falls.

Simply put, climate concern is at its highest in Australia when there’s a perception (eg 2006, 2019) that the government isn’t doing anything about the issue and isn’t taking it seriously. Conversely, climate concern has been at its lowest as the Government began to pursue substantive climate action, bottoming out when the so-called carbon tax was legislated in 2012.

In this election, Australians were suddenly faced with a prospective Labor Government ready with a suite of measures to tackle climate change.

And they were presented with an account of these measures as a devastating economic blow to Australian prosperity and growth.

However discredited much of this modelling ultimately was, and the broader fear campaign about everything from electricity prices to the end of petrol-based cars, it raised the spectre of immediate economic sacrifice for Australian

We’re already in a climate emergency

So what would it take to make climate change a major political concern in Australia, and a crucial issue in future Australian elections?

A climate emergency, perhaps? The problem with this argument is that by most accounts, we’re in one.

The five hottest years on record have been the past five, natural disasters have increased in intensity and frequency, we’re in the midst of an extinction crisis and the average global temperatures suggest that we’ve almost reached the agreed Paris target for warming: no more than 1.5 degrees.

So the issue is not whether there’s a problem. Rather, it’s how to get Australian policy makers and voters to recognise and respond to it credibly and seriously. It should be easier to do.

We’re confronted more than ever with manifestations of climate change.

The five hottest years on record have been the past five, natural disasters have increased in intensity and frequency, we’re in the midst of an extinction crisis and the average global temperatures suggest that we’ve almost reached the agreed Paris target for warming: no more than 1.5 degrees.

So the issue is not whether there’s a problem. Rather, it’s how to get Australian policy makers and voters to recognise and respond to it credibly and seriously. It should be easier to do.

We’re confronted more than ever with manifestations of climate change.

May 20, 2019 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, climate change - global warming, election 2019

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