Positive Energy releases early results from survey designed to track polarization on energy and climate issues in Canada
Positive Energy, the research group at the University of Ottawa that studies energy policy released new and timely survey results, examining a range of issues pivotal to Canada’s energy future in an age of climate change. This novel survey will measure polarization on climate and energy issues across Canada on an ongoing basis. The survey was conducted by Positive Energy researchers Stephen Bird and Erick Lachapelle. Bird is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Institute for a Sustainable Environment Adirondack Semester at Clarkson University. The results arrive amidst growing concerns over polarization following the 2019 federal election.
The research offers new insights into polarization by drawing the distinction between polarized opinion and fragmented opinion. Polarized opinion refers to opinions grouped at the extreme ends of a spectrum. People don’t just agree or disagree, they do so strongly. Fragmented opinion refers to differences of opinion that aren’t necessarily hardened at either end of the spectrum.
The distinction between fragmented and polarized opinion is critical for decision-makers navigating polarization. Polarized opinions are difficult for governments to deal with because peoples’ opinions may become less malleable and less amenable to compromise.
The research examines public opinion along multiple demographic lines, including province, age, partisan affiliation, and community size. Canadians generally agree on many high-level issues related to energy and climate. Where they disagree, opinion is more often fragmented than polarized. Polarized opinion tends to emerge along partisan lines.
“Our results reveal that Canadians don’t agree on a number of energy issues, but they are not always polarized. This finding is pivotal – it suggests there may be more room for compromise on contentious energy and climate issues than commonly believed,” said Monica Gattinger, Chair of Positive Energy and Full Professor, School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa.
“When we visualize public opinion, we typically see a bell curve,” added Stephen Bird, Associate Professor of Political Science at Clarkson University and Positive Energy Faculty Member. “Most people occupy a middle ground. When opinion is polarized, the bell curve inverts, with more opinions occupying the extremes. Inverted bell curves are visible in some of our results.”
According to Erick Lachapelle, Associate Professor of Political Science at Université de Montréal,
“This survey provides a snapshot of views during the 2019 federal election campaign. It will be important to track these views so we can better understand how the climate and energy conversation evolves in Canada. If views become more polarized, we'll want to know what the drivers are.”
The full report is available on Positive Energy’s website. In the coming months, Positive Energy will be releasing additional analyses from these data, including multivariate analysis.
The survey focused on seven pressing issues facing Canadians and Canadian policymakers:
- The federal carbon tax: We find more support than opposition to the federal carbon tax. However, opinions are polarized along partisan lines. Views are more fragmented than polarized across regions (except Prairies and to some extent Quebec, where it tends to polarized) generations.
- Pipelines: More respondents agree than disagree that the economic benefits of building new pipelines in Canada outweigh the risks of potential spills, tanker traffic, and climate change. Opinion is polarized across partisan lines but fragmented across regions (except Praries and Quebec, where it tends to polarized).
- The speed of energy transition: Most respondents prefer a balanced transition, with more than two-thirds saying Canada should continue producing oil and gas. One in three support aggressively phasing out fossil fuels. Nearly half of all respondents want 100% renewable energy within the next 10 years.
- Canada’s energy mix: Every region in Canada strongly recognizes the importance of oil, natural gas, and renewable energy to the current Canadian economy. Opinion on nuclear energy is fragmented overall and polarized by region.
- The oil sands: The idea that Canada can continue to develop fossil fuel resources such as the oil sands and still meet its climate commitments garners more support than opposition, but opinion is fragmented. There are strongly polarized views on this issue along partisan lines.
- Nuclear energy: Attitudes toward nuclear energy as a climate solution are fragmented at the national level, but somewhat polarized along regional, generational, and partisan lines.
- Indigenous consent: Canadians are fragmented on whether Indigenous consent is the most important consideration for energy projects. Opinion is polarized by region, generation and partisan affiliation. Millennials and Gen Z are the only generational cohort to express more support than opposition to the idea.
Results available at the link below:
Other Positive Energy Surveys