May 14, 2018 5:30 am
Updated: May 14, 2018 3:23 pm

7 in 10 Ontarians think carbon taxes are just a tax grab: Ipsos poll

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Carbon tax has been a hotly debated issue in the run-up to next month’s provincial election in Ontario, but most voters think it’s little more than a tax grab and a pointless, symbolic gesture that won’t actually do much to tackle climate change.

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That’s according to a new Ipsos poll, conducted exclusively for Global News, in which 72 per cent of Ontarians said carbon taxes are just a tax grab, while 68 per cent dismissed them as a purely symbolic gesture.

The poll of 1,197 eligible voters found the sentiments to be largely prevalent across party lines — while Conservative voters (85 per cent) were most likely to label carbon taxes a tax grab, a majority of NDP (72 per cent) and Liberal (54 per cent) voters also felt the same.

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Carbon tax is quite simply a low-priority issue for Ontarians at the moment, according to Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos Global Affairs.

“Two or three years ago, the emphasis on the term ‘carbon tax’ was on ‘carbon,’ but now it seems to be on ‘tax,'” Bricker told Global News. “Voters are looking at it — particularly if you’re a Conservative voter — as an attempt to get more money out of your pocket as opposed to actually doing anything meaningful about climate change.”

Bricker also points to another recent Ipsos poll in which respondents ranked climate change at No. 8, when asked to rank issues important to them.

“It seems to be a low-priority item or at best, a moderate-priority item for people, for which they seem less willing to pay a tax,” he said.

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The new poll also found a clear correlation between having a pessimistic outlook on the economy, and opposing carbon taxes — eight in 10 respondents who held a pessimistic economic outlook labelled carbon taxes a tax grab, compared to 66 per cent of those who have an optimistic outlook.

In other words, if you’re struggling to make ends meet or maintain the kind of lifestyle you desire, issues such as the long-term impact of climate change on the planet are unlikely to be top of mind.

“The public is feeling a bit more short-term, and they’re worried about what they see as a declining sense of economic opportunity in their lives,” said Bricker.

“There are a lot of people out there who are trying to get by in pretty tough circumstances. So for them, even though there’s this existential threat potentially posed by climate change, it’s not really the priority for them in a way that the day-to-day bills are.”

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Not only are Ontarians unwilling to make sacrifices in the name of tackling climate change, but they’re generally torn on whether carbon taxes would be even be effective at all, the poll found.

Only half of respondents agreed that carbon taxes will prompt people to make smart choices about their emissions, and that carbon taxes will help improve the world’s climate.

However, a significant political divide emerged on the issue of effectiveness, with 74 per cent of Liberal and 48 per cent of NDP voters believing that carbon taxes are good for the climate, compared to 33 per cent of Conservatives.

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The main problem for the Liberals — who have made tackling climate change one of their signature policies — is that even voters who see climate change as a crucial issue are divided on whether Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals or Andrea Horwath’s NDP are best able to deliver it, Bricker pointed out.

A previous Ipsos poll conducted for Global News found that among those who consider climate change their single most important issue, 28 per cent felt the NDP would do the best job advancing the climate change agenda, compared to 24 per cent for the Liberals and 10 per cent for the Conservatives.

“The big thing in any election campaign is you have to find an issue that’s important, and you have to differentiate yourself from your opponents on it,” said Bricker.

“The problem here is that the NDP and the Liberals are basically tied. Even if you get the public all excited about climate change, the question is, ‘Who do I vote for?'”

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Millennials are the demographic that seem most open to carbon taxes, with 64 per cent saying that carbon taxes can help improve the world’s climate, as compared to 47 per cent of Gen Xers and 48 per cent of boomers.

This may be due to a combination of lifestyle and income traits particular to that age group, Bricker said.

“Millennials are the least likely to drive, tend to be more in the cities and tend to be more educated as well, but they’re also probably not paying that high a tax rate right now.”

The concern for political parties is that millennials don’t tend to vote in huge numbers except in cases where they’re really passionate, such as in the 2015 federal election, Bricker added.

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Overall, passions are higher among those who oppose the “tax” part of carbon taxes, than among those concerned about “carbon” as a contributor to climate change, said Bricker, who labelled climate change as a “middling issue.”

“It’s there, but it’s not seen as a top priority. It’s a combination of short-term priorities but also this feeling that we can’t really do anything about [climate change], which is what we see in this poll where people don’t agree that carbon taxes will help,” he said.

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With Ontarians set to head for the polls June 7, the progressive parties would be well-advised to prevent harping on about carbon taxes unless they want to give Doug Ford a helping hand, Bricker said — “Because what it really does is ricochet back on the Conservative voters and gives them more passion about supporting a change in government.”

These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted between May 4 and 7, 2018, on behalf of Global News. For this survey, a sample of 1,197 Ontario eligible voters was interviewed online (789 Ontarian eligible voters aged 18+ from Ipsos’ online panel were interviewed online, supplemented by river-based sampling) and by telephone (408 Ontarian eligible voters aged 18+ via live-operator random-digit dialing, dual-frame cellphone and landline). Weighting was then employed to balance demographics to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the adult population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within ±3.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all eligible Ontario voters been polled.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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