How green can the UK Conservatives actually afford to be?

Image source: Conservatives.

A new piece of research shows that potential Conservative voters in the UK are typically slightly less supportive of strong environmental policies than the population as a whole. Undecided voters that the Tories want to attract into their camp are generally even less convinced by eco-friendly political initiatives. Although the party leadership remains eager to portray itself with a greenish tinge, the lack of support among voters will tend to circumscribe the freedom to propose radical ideas for the 2010 election. If your target voters are wary of strong environmental policies, you don’t propose them in the run-up to an election. Not unexpectedly, Tory voters want green policies to be focused on investment in emissions-reducing technologies and tend to reject any increase in taxes or restrictions on economic freedoms. So, for example, it will be difficult for the party to reject airport expansion strongly.


Haddock Research, a Canadian marketing research company has just published some details of its research into environmental attitudes in the UK, the US, and Canada itself. This short note focuses on the UK data. More information about other countries is available from Peter Winters at Haddock (

Haddock’s field work was carried out a year ago but the research’s general conclusions are likely to be broadly applicable today. The company asked 1,050 UK residents whether they agreed or disagreed with some key environmental policies and it gave me full information on the split of opinions and political affiliations for four of the questions. In all but the first – investment in green transport – Conservative voters were slightly less ‘green’ than the UK average.

The four policies are:

  1. Investment in green transport
  2. Obliging companies to take energy-wasting or otherwise environmentally undesirable products off the market
  3. Restricting further expansion of airports
  4. Increasing taxes on car fuel

Investment in green transport Across the political spectrum, a majority of people supported this policy. 75% of those questioned either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that

As part of a programme of green taxation, in principle, I like the idea of our government investing in green technology related to transport

The percentages of people supporting political parties and agreeing with this statement were:

Conservative 75%
Labour 77%
Liberal Democrat 87%
Green 89%
Undecided or unaligned 68%
Average across all respondents 75%

The responses to this question by Conservative voters were strongly favourable. Undecided voters were somewhat less impressed by the policy, but a two-thirds majority in favour. The Conservatives can therefore push for policies of green investment in transport without strongly alienating the non-aligned voter.

Obliging companies to take energy-wasting or otherwise environmentally undesirable products off the market This policy only achieved a small majority of people supporting it. 56% of people either agreed or strongly agreed with the following proposition:

There should be increasingly tough laws banning products which cause climate change

Conservative 52%
Labour 62%
Liberal Democrat 67%
Green 87%
Undecided or unaligned 52%
Average across all respondents 56%

Liberal Democrats and Greens strongly supported this policy but Conservatives and the undecideds were only marginally in favour. (About 30% of the interviewees declared themselves Conservative and about 40% were ‘undecided’.) It is unclear that this policy would attract many votes from floating voters. Labour voters were generally much more approving of bans of poor performing products.

Restricting further expansion of airports Less than 50% of people supported this policy. (A further quarter were undecided.) The question was:

As part of a programme of green taxation, in principle, I like the idea of restricting further expansion of airports

Conservative 45%
Labour 47%
Liberal Democrat 57%
Green 73%
Undecided or unaligned 42%
Average across all respondents 47%

Once again, Conservatives were slightly less inclined to support this policy and non-aligned voters were even more equivocal. The Conservatives would therefore be taking a risk in pursuing this policy. Non-aligned voters are slightly less inclined to support this policy than declared Conservative respondents and there is therefore no obvious electoral advantage in planning to restrict airport growth.

Increasing taxes on car fuel This is the most unpopular measure. Unsurprisingly, only 15% of people agree or strongly agree with this proposition:

As part of a programme of green taxation, in principle, I like the idea of increasing taxes on car fuel

Conservative 10%
Labour 21%
Liberal Democrat 19%
Green 49%
Undecided or unaligned 11%
Average across all respondents 15%

In this case, the percentage of Conservatives agreeing with the policy idea is actually very slightly lower than the percentage of undecideds. But both groups record very low support. Only the Greens can muster as much as 1 in 2 of their voters behind this proposition.

The overall results from the four questions are as follows:

  • Undecided voters tend to be slightly more resistant to environmental initiatives than Conservatives. If the Tories are to attract this part of the electorate, they cannot be green radicals.
  • Green taxation is very unpopular. Even the Green Party supporters are equivocal.
  • 'Choice editing' – the removal of poor environmental performers from the shelves of shops – has only limited support.
  • Green investment is one policy that all types of voters support, even the non-aligned segment.