Election poll: swing rural voters show higher support for net zero and action on climate change

Rural voters witness more impacts of climate change, with both main party leaders needing to show more ‘respect’ for rural communities

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By George Smeeton


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New polling by More in Common for the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) [1] shows that voters in Britain’s most rural constituencies that have switched from the Conservatives to Labour strongly are even more supportive of the UK’s net zero target, and renewable energy such as solar farms than the public as a whole. But while there is a major swing of 18.5% from the Conservative’s to Labour, voters in these seats think both main party leaders need to show more respect for rural communities like theirs.

The Conservative vote share in these seats has fallen from 50% in 2019, to 30% today. The seats polled [2] included Rishi Sunak’s seat of Richmond and Northallerton, South West Norfolk, the seat of former Prime Minister Liz Truss, and Westmorland and Lonsdale, seat of the former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron.

These rural voters show high levels of concern for climate change, and strong support for the net zero target. Around three in four (73%) voters in the most rural seats are concerned about climate change, compared to the national sample results of 70%. 68% of rural voters support the UK’s net zero target, and only 12% oppose it, compared to 65% support for the national sample. Support for the target amongst current and former farmers rises to 72%.

Amongst those in these rural seats who voted Conservative in 2019, but now say they intend to vote Labour, concern about climate change is higher at 81%, as is support for the net zero target at 77%.

Voters in these seats are also supportive of renewable energy, with 58% supportive of a new onshore wind farm being built in their local area, and 64% supportive of a solar farm. Again, voters in these seats that have swung from Conservative to Labour are more supportive still, with 68% in favour of onshore wind, and 72% in favour of solar farms.

Tom Lancaster, Land, Food and Farming Analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said: “It makes total sense that voters in the most rural seats show high levels of support for net zero, when they see firsthand the impacts of climate change on farming and wildlife, and are often at greater risk of flooding. Sometimes characterised as less concerned about climate change, this polling shows in fact that rural people see it as a major concern.

“Rather than being ‘blockers’, rural voters also demonstrate strong support for the policies needed to tackle climate change, such as more funding for greener farming, and strong support for renewable energy in their area.

“To win the respect of voters in these new electoral battlegrounds, all political parties are likely to need a strong offer on climate change, and should be wary of finding themselves on the wrong side of the debate from voters in these vital rural seats.

“Green farming support is helping harvests be more resilient to the extreme’s climate change is throwing at the UK, like the wet winter that has led to crops rotting in fields. Healthier soils, more hedgerows and trees all help protect farming and food from droughts, heatwaves and floods.”

These rural voters are more likely to have noticed climate impacts in their local area, with two-thirds (66%) seeing more frequent or severe flooding and more than half (55%) noticing crop damage as a result of extreme weather like drought or floods.

Recent analysis by the ECIU has found that the UK’s arable farmers could lose nearly £1 billion in revenue [3] and, as a country, food self-sufficiency could decline from 86% to 78% after the wettest 18 months since records began in 1836 [4]. Harvests for key crops like wheat, winter barley, spring barley, oats and oilseed rape are expected to be lower because of wet weather preventing the drilling of winter and spring crops. A recent study showed that total rainfall this winter was made 15% heavier by climate change [5].

The majority of rural voters do not think that Rishi Sunak respects their community (56%) while 21% think that he does. A quarter (26%) think that Keir Starmer respects their community and (41%) do not think he respects rural communities. The polling shows there may be a much bigger swing to Labour in rural areas than nationally, as support for Labour in rural seats now stands at 35%, compared to 18% for Labour in these seats in 2019.

Policies that would help the UK achieve net zero in the farming, land use and renewables sector are also popular with rural voters. For example, over three in four (78%) rural voters support government schemes that would help farmers to transition to environmentally friendly farming practices, which is much more than the national sample (59%).

In addition, 63% of rural voters support some farmland being converted to nature reserves, in order to protect wildlife from the risk of flooding caused by climate change and over eight in ten (81%) of rural voters supported farmers using more of their land for nature friendly farming in their local area.

58% of voters in these rural seats thought that the government wasn’t doing enough to help rural communities tackle climate change, and 70% thought not enough was being done to reduce flood risk for rural communities.

In the national polling that went alongside the poll of rural seats, two in three people (66%) would support solar farms being built in their local area. In regions like the South West, where multiple solar farms are proposed, support rises and is amongst the highest of all the English regions at around 70%.

Nationally, around three in five people (61%) support onshore wind farms being built in their local area, including in the East of the country where most is proposed. Support for onshore wind rises specifically in rural communities where wind farms are proposed, for example support is highest in this group in the East Midlands and East of England at two in three people (67%).

In general over half of people (54%) in general support 'new look' pylons being built in their local area, and support in rural communities in the East of England, where most pylons are proposed, is the highest of any region.


Notes to editors:

1. More in Common polled 2,034 adults in the five most rural constituencies of each of Britain’s regions (excluding Greater London) between the 16th April and 6th May 2024. The same questions were also asked to a nationally representative sample of 2,061 adults between the 16th April and 23rd April 2024. Full weighting methodology and data tables can be found at https://www.moreincommon.org.u.... More in Common is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by their rules.

2. 50 of the most ‘highly rural’ seats in Great Britain were polled, with five from each English region outside London, 5 in Wales and 5 in Scotland. They were:

  • Waveney Valley
  • North Norfolk
  • Mid Norfolk
  • South West Norfolk
  • Broadland and Fakenham
  • Derbyshire Dales
  • Gainsborough
  • Louth and Horncastle
  • Rutland and Stamford
  • Daventry
  • Hexham
  • North Northumberland
  • Bishop Auckland
  • Stockton West
  • Newton Aycliffe and Spennymoor
  • Chester South and Eddisbury
  • Westmorland and Lonsdale
  • Penrith and Solway
  • Ribble Valley
  • Lancaster and Wyre
  • Na h-Eileanan an Iar
  • Orkney and Shetland
  • Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale
  • Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross
  • Gordon and Buchan
  • Weald of Kent
  • Mid Buckinghamshire
  • Arundel and South Downs
  • Sussex Weald
  • Witney
  • Wells and Mendip Hills
  • North Cornwall
  • Torridge and Tavistock
  • St Ives
  • Central Devon
  • Ceredigion Preseli
  • Dwyfor Meirionnydd
  • Caerfyrddin
  • Montgomeryshire and Glyndwr
  • Ynys Môn
  • North Herefordshire
  • South Shropshire
  • West Worcestershire
  • North Shropshire
  • Stratford-on-Avon
  • Wetherby and Easingwold
  • Thirsk and Malton
  • Skipton and Ripon
  • Richmond and Northallerton
  • Bridlington and the Wolds

3. https://eciu.net/media/press-r...

4. https://eciu.net/analysis/repo...

5. https://www.worldweatherattrib...

For more information or for interview requests:

George Smeeton, Head of Communications, ECIU, Tel: +44 (0)7894 571 153, email: george.smeeton@eciu.net