British press out of touch with public support for wind power

British press out of touch with public support for wind power

  • Polling out today shows three-quarters of the British public (73%) say they back onshore wind farms.

  • At the same time, a new analysis of British press coverage shows comment and editorial pieces are largely negative about wind power, though more balanced when it comes to fracking.

  • Polling also shows British people grossly underestimate support for onshore wind.

Polling by ComRes released today by climate charity 10:10 shows that three-quarters of the British public back onshore wind power, at a level twice that of support for fracking wells for natural gas (73% vs 34%).

The poll also found British people underestimate support for onshore wind. Despite 73% saying they support onshore wind, only a minority (11%) think that 71% or more people in the UK support the use of this technology illustrating a clear difference between perception and reality. Similarly, 83% say they support solar farms, while only one in five (21%) think that 71% or more people in the UK support it.

Significantly, the poll also found two thirds of people living in rural areas say they support onshore wind farms (65%). Although support for onshore wind was lower here than in urban areas (75%), it is still high, and the difference is similar to one found if you split by age (77% of 18-24s support onshore wind compared to 66% of over 65s). Interestingly, 73% of both men and women support onshore wind, despite established significant gender divides when it comes to fracking and nuclear (42% of men support fracking, 27% women; 61% men support nuclear, 33% women).

In an attempt to fix the perception gap and promote the deployment of onshore wind, 10:10 are launching a pro-onshore wind campaign today, Blown Away, inviting people to show their support for the technology. A range of activities are planned for the next year, starting with a petition before the autumn statement on 23rd November calling on the government to ensure that fossil fuels are not given more financial support than onshore wind.

Also released today by 10:10, new research conducted by Sandra Bernick, Imperial College London, compared UK press coverage of onshore wind and fracking in the last 5 years. It suggests a worrying lack of balance when it comes to onshore wind.

Bernick found two and a half times as many overall negative editorial and comment pieces on onshore wind as positive ones. When examining each argument made within the articles, for every four problems raised about onshore wind, she found only one argument stressing the benefits.

In contrast, when it came to pieces about fracking, arguments tended to stress the positives - only two out of five arguments raised problems with fracking. Bernick also found individual articles on fracking tended to be more balanced in weighing risks and benefits against each other. 15% of the fracking pieces the research looked at expressed both risks and benefits, whereas only 6% of the wind pieces did.

When it came to the arguments made against onshore wind, aesthetic and cultural problems were the most frequently employed, followed by economic issues or technical problems. On the benefits side, economic arguments were most often used, followed by environment ones. Strikingly, arguments for the energy independence onshore wind might offer the UK were nowhere to be found, even though they were a concern frequently used when advocating fracking.

10:10 worries this suggests that when pro-wind advocates do make their case, they rely too heavily on expertise of environmental scientists and economics, rather than seeking to forge more personal relationships between the public and wind power. This analysis would follow decades of research into public engagement with science and technology as well more recent analysis of aspects of the Brexit debate.

Max Wakefield, lead campaigner at 10:10, said:

“The UK public love wind power and they don’t even realise. That’s why today we’re launching the Blown Away campaign - asking people who love wind power to stand up and be counted.

Back in 2014, before David Cameron put opposition to onshore wind in the Conservative manifesto, he told the House of Commons Liaison Committee that people were ‘fed up’ with wind farms. But it’s plainly not true onshore wind is unpopular with the UK public. It’s not just our poll today, again and again the data shows this. It’s time our politicians caught up.

Onshore wind is already the cheapest tool we have to achieve energy independence, keep bills under control and tackle climate change. And, unlike government pet projects like fracking, it’s really popular. It’s time for a fresh debate about onshore wind in the UK: with such high public support, it can’t just be hung out to dry”.

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Notes to editors:

  • 10:10 brings communities together to take practical action on climate change http://1010uk.org/.

  • 10:10 is funded by a combination of charitable trusts and foundations, individuals and corporate partnerships. The launch of Blown Away has received no money from the wind industry.

  • ComRes interviewed 2037 British adults online aged 18+ between 12th and 13th October 2016. Data were weighted by age, gender, region and socio-economic grade to be representative of the population as a whole. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules (www.britishpollingcouncil.org).

  • Sandra Bernick used Factiva to find articles from the British national print media for the period 01 January 2011 to 21 September 2016 on onshore wind and fracking, then ran sentiment and framing analysis.