Voters in three Liberal-held federal seats in metropolitan Sydney remain worried about climate change despite the pressing frustrations and uncertainties associated with the Delta outbreak, according to new electorate-level polling commissioned by an activist group.
New seat polls commissioned by Climate 200, an organisation supporting independent political candidates committed to achieving a science-based response to climate change, suggest global heating is the number one issue of concern for voters in the electorates of Wentworth and North Sydney.
In the electorate of Mackellar on Sydney’s northern beaches, climate change ranks number two on a priority list. Economic management remains the number one issue for Mackeller, with climate change at two and management of the Covid-19 pandemic three.
The list of priorities that poll respondents were asked to rank were economic management, healthcare, the handling of the pandemic, climate change and the environment, education, and the treatment of women.
In the seat of Wentworth, climate change was ranked first, with Covid ranking second and economic management third. In North Sydney, the climate was first, economic management second, and Covid third.
The polls also suggest the base level of community support for an independent political candidate in the seats currently held by Liberal moderates ranges between 10% and 16%.
That level of support among respondents doubled when people were asked whether or not they would support an independent like Zali Steggall – who took the seat of Warringah from the former prime minister Tony Abbott in 2019.
There has been a debate since the 2019 election about whether Australia’s national political polls are accurate, and individual seat polls are not always reliable.
The polls in the three Sydney electorates, taken in the middle of August, report sample sizes of more than 600 respondents, and the pollster UComms says the survey’s margin of error is plus or minus 4.2%.
While individual seat polls in Australia have a very chequered record, a number of national opinion surveys, including the Guardian Essential poll, suggest Australian voters have maintained their concern about Australia’s lack of substantial action on climate change even as the pandemic has dominated everyday life since early 2020.
The Liberal incumbents in the three seats, Dave Sharma, Trent Zimmerman and Jason Falinski, are acutely aware that their constituents are focused on climate action, and have been vocal during Scott Morrison’s attempted pivot in the direction of a net zero pledge ahead of the Cop26 in Glasgow in November.
Under sustained pressure from moderates in his party room, and from Australia’s allies – particularly the United States and the United Kingdom – to increase Australia’s level of ambition on climate action, the prime minister says he wants to achieve net zero emissions as soon as possible and “preferably” by 2050.
He has also hinted Australia might update its current 2030 target ahead of Glasgow. But Morrison’s attempt to shift his government is complicated by resistance from National party MPs, with some declaring they will not tolerate any firm commitment by the prime minister to net zero by the middle of the century.
Simon Holmes à Court, convenor of Climate 200, said the new polling suggested that climate-focused candidates were “viable in these [Liberal] heartland seats”.
“A pro-climate crossbench holding the balance of power is the shortest and surest path to ensuring that the next parliament ends Australia’s lost decade on climate change and makes real inroads on restoring integrity to our political system,” Holmes à Court said.
“All else remaining equal, voting in three more pro-climate independents at the next election would force either major party to deliver the change Australians want.”