Climate change a polarizing topic in the province, poll reveals Although nearly seven in 10 Manitobans believe the climate crisis is real, it remains something of a polarizing topic in the province, as skepticism appears among various demographic groups, a new Free Press-Probe Research poll reveals

Climate change remains a polarizing and partisan issue for Manitobans, but new polling suggests more rebates and incentives for reducing emissions would resonate across party lines.

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Climate change remains a polarizing and partisan issue for Manitobans, but new polling suggests more rebates and incentives for reducing emissions would resonate across party lines.


Probe surveyed 1,000 Manitobans from March 8-20. More than 700 respondents were randomly recruited by phone, and nearly 300 were members of Probe’s online research panel. All respondents completed the survey online.

They were asked three questions related to climate change:

Probe surveyed 1,000 Manitobans from March 8-20. More than 700 respondents were randomly recruited by phone, and nearly 300 were members of Probe’s online research panel. All respondents completed the survey online.

They were asked three questions related to climate change:

1. Which of the following three statements best fits your view about climate change?

Climate change is real and it’s being caused by humans, climate change is happening but we can’t say for sure if it’s being caused by humans, or I don’t believe that the climate is actually changing.

2. Overall, how well would you say the Manitoba government is doing when it comes to addressing climate change — excellent, good, fair, poor or unsure?

3. For each of the following, please indicate if you support or oppose the provincial government taking this step to reduce carbon emissions/address climate change:

• Giving homeowners more grants/rebates for purchasing energy efficiency appliances, heating systems, etc.
• Providing rebates for electric cars.
• Charging an extra tax or fee on large gas-burning pickup trucks or SUVs.
• Increasing the carbon tax.

With a sample size of 1,000, Probe can say with 95 per cent certainty that results are within 3.1 percentage points plus or minus of what they would have been if all Manitoba adults had been surveyed.

A Winnipeg Free Press-Probe Research poll conducted earlier this month asked Manitobans what they think about climate change, its causes and the province’s policies. A significant number — 69 per cent — of people in the province believe it’s real and caused by human activity, eight per cent are firm in their belief that it doesn’t exist and 23 per cent were less entrenched, acknowledging the problem but not necessarily placing the blame on human activity.

“That’s not an overwhelming majority but it’s a solid majority,” said Probe Research principal Mary Agnes Welch.

The poll results suggest Manitobans have views similar to national averages. A separate survey conducted last fall found 68 per cent of Canadians agree that climate change is human-caused. Meanwhile, a 2021 study conducted by researchers at Cornell University found more than 99 per cent of peer-reviewed scientific papers concluded climate change is human-caused.

In this province, young people, Winnipeggers, university graduates and left-leaning voters were most likely to affirm climate change as a human-caused reality. Rural residents, older Manitobans and people with lower levels of education (high school degree or less) were among those more likely to say climate change isn’t a reality at all.

“We see that polarization in a lot of other areas, based on education more than anything else, and this is an example of where that education gap is really significant,” Welch said.

The 23 per cent who aren’t sure who or what to blame for the problem is a hopeful group, she said.

“Those are the people that may be swayed in the future, that haven’t made up their minds,” she said. “They’re not, perhaps, as polarized as some others and they could be convinced. Their behaviours could be nudged a little bit.”

There appeared to be little uniting those in the middle, Welch said. That group was split among regional, educational and income demographics. Of note, however, about 30 per cent of undecided voters and 40 per cent of Progressive Conservative voters fell into that category.

Although PC voters were more likely than other political groups to say climate change isn’t real, “all the Tories are not clustered necessarily in that, ‘I-don’t-believe-this-is-happening-at-all bar,’” Welch said. “There’s a little bit of hope there.”

Melanee Thomas, associate professor of political science at the University of Calgary, said issues such as climate change are “tricky” because people generally agree on the preferred outcome — having a clean environment, for example — but disagree on how to get there, leading to a kind of emotional polarization.

“Climate change can be seen as polarizing because it taps into us-versus-them existential stuff,” Thomas said.

People may perceive “part of their identity, part of their prosperity, parts of their life that they hold dear” will be threatened by a changing climate or the social changes needed to respond to climate change, she said, adding those perceptions can inspire what she called an “existential worry.”

Stances that are intimately tied to partisanship or economic beliefs, she said, can be very difficult to change.

Meanwhile, just 15 per cent think the province has been doing an “excellent” (four per cent) or “good” (11 per cent) job on climate issues. Those respondents were evenly split along regional lines, but skewed slightly older and significantly more conservative than the 27 per cent who believe the government is doing a “fair” job and the 44 per cent who rate the province’s climate policies as “poor.”

Another 15 per cent weren’t sure how to rate the government’s performance.

That poor provincial performance review is, in part, the result of average residents’ inability to point to particular government policy on climate issues, Welch said.

“I don’t know if I can point to one memorable thing, or one policy, or something that’s really changed — beyond fighting with the feds over the carbon tax,” she said. “This kind of question makes you think, ‘What have they done?’ which, I think, gives you that unsure number, but also feeds into that overwhelmingly negative view.”

Manitobans, however, are aligned on the most appealing incentives to help reduce carbon emissions and address climate change.

While the same groups most likely to identify climate change as a human-caused crisis are likely to support any and all emission-reduction strategies, fully 90 per cent of respondents are in favour of grants and rebates for homeowners to purchase energy-efficient appliances, heating systems and other at-home emissions-reduction options. About 50 per cent of Manitobans indicate strong support for such incentives.

“That’s everybody,” Welch said. “Even people who are climate-change skeptics, who are lower income or education, they want those kinds of rebates and those grants.”

Efficiency Manitoba, a Crown corporation tasked with helping lower Manitoba’s carbon pollution by decreasing reliance on natural gas, offers incentives for homeowners looking to boost energy efficiency. Measures include rebates for home-energy retrofits, heat pump and solar panel installations, recycling programs for old fridges and freezers and rebates for Manitobans who switch to more efficient insulation, windows and doors.

According to its 2022 annual report, Efficiency Manitoba handed out nearly $26 million in rebates and incentives to residents and businesses last fiscal year.

Approximately two-thirds of Manitobans said they support incentives to purchase electric vehicles.

But on the flip side, respondents are, overall, less convinced by incentives focused on increased taxation for more carbon-intensive activities. Survey participants are split nearly 50-50 on an extra tax or fee on gas-guzzling vehicles such as pickup trucks and SUVs. Two-thirds of respondents — including one-third of NDP voters and more than eight in 10 conservative voters — are against increases to carbon pricing.

Welch said she wasn’t surprised by Manitobans’ rejection of carbon-pricing increases. While some of the dissent could be attributed to positions on climate change more broadly, and still more could be linked to an overall aversion to extra taxation in a time of financial strain, she suggested some respondents are simply not convinced carbon pricing really works.

Former premier Brian Pallister made headlines by taking the federal government to court after a “made-in-Manitoba” climate plan was rejected by federal leaders in 2019. The province came out on the losing end of the two-year court battle, and Premier Heather Stefanson chose not to appeal the decision in 2021.

Since then, carbon pricing has put pressure on Manitobans at the pump, but has been counterbalanced by a series of provincial rebate cheques sent to residents.

“There’s a lot of confusion around it and I think there are even some on the progressive side that are not really sure we’re seeing a lot of impact on climate change from the carbon tax,” Welch said. “It’s a bit of a mess in people’s minds.”


Julia-Simone Rutgers

Julia-Simone Rutgers

Julia-Simone Rutgers is a climate reporter with a focus on environmental issues in Manitoba. Her position is part of a three-year partnership between the Winnipeg Free Press and The Narwhal, funded by the Winnipeg Foundation.

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