Climate change: will the parties unite or divide?

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A key distinction that has long been drawn in the study of public attitudes is between 'position' and 'valence' issues.1 A 'position' issue is one where people disagree about the objective of public policy. Brexit is an obvious example – some voters want the UK to be part of the EU, while others do not. A 'valence' issue, in contrast, is one where most people agree on the goal – nearly everyone, for example, is in favour of low unemployment. The difference has implications for the way in which political parties are able to compete with each other on an issue. In the case of a 'position' issue they can try to persuade voters that the policy objective they are proposing is better than that of their opponents. In the case of a ‘valence’ issue, in contrast, voters have to decide which party is best able to achieve the objective on which more or less everyone is agreed.

But where is climate change now likely to stand on this spectrum in Britain's party political battle? Is stopping the warming of the planet an objective to which most voters are committed and where the only issue is which of the parties has the better ideas for addressing it? Or, is it an issue on which there are divisions within the electorate that could potentially see the parties taking different stances on mitigating climate change? Much research on attitudes towards climate change focuses on the willingness (or otherwise) of individuals and private organisations to adapt or change their behaviour out of concern for the climate. Our focus, however, is on attitudes towards the collective actions that the state may or may not take in order to address climate change. While the actions of individuals matter, it is governments that are uniquely placed to take collective action on the issue, including setting the legal and regulatory framework within which individuals and others take their decisions. Our evidence comes from a variety of surveys and polls conducted during the course of the past 12 months.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)358-370
Number of pages13
JournalIPPR Progressive Review
Issue number4
Early online date16 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - 27 Mar 2022


  • climate change
  • parties
  • unite
  • divide
  • public attitudes
  • UK
  • Britain
  • position issue
  • valence issue


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