Background

The Brisbane Times ran this headline today on a story regarding the latest Lowry Institute poll. This poll, of 1000 Australians taken over the phone showed that amongst other things; 39% of Australians are not prepared to pay anything to combat global warming. And only 41% think it is (climate change) a serious and pressing problem.

This is in a current political, economic and social environment where debate is now centred around the introduction of a carbon tax, plunging support for the Labor Party and Julia Gillard as Prime Minister. And increasingly strident (and sometimes ugly) name calling around the science of climate change.

Now we are not here to try and solve the science question. Nor are we arguing the merits or otherwise of a carbon tax. But it did seem rather extraordinary to claim that Australians are ‘switched off’ on this subject on the basis of a poll showing many didn’t want to pay (duh!).  And we do feel at iGo2 that social business intelligence can give us a much clearer and more immediate view of what Australians are thinking on this subject than a telephone poll of just 1000 people. The social web is a remarkable source of public opinion.

The Research

We did some simple searches across blogs, forums, social media and traditional media. We looked at three terms:

Global Warming, Climate Change and Carbon Tax. We only looked at posts from Australia and as you will see we did try to gauge some information regarding sentiment though that is very difficult with such a broad and ambiguous term as climate change – but we did get some interesting data on a carbon tax.

This research was all carried out on June 28th and as you will also see, some parts of the social web are very responsive to recent influencers – like the ABC’s Q & A.

The Data

One thing the data clearly shows is that for the past 6 months there have been very high levels of conversations around the climate change / global warming / carbon tax issues. Whilst we think the sentiment numbers are a little misleading because of the range of topics, it is interesting that there is a lot of neutral sentiment – many people do seem to be wavering in their thoughts. So the Brisbane Times couldn’t be more wrong – people are very engaged around these topics. And the most active are the news services themselves who are obviously producing a lot of copy on these subjects. So having dispelled that notion, we thought we would have a look at some other data.

There does seem to be a couple of almost parallel, but not quite intersecting paths being trodden. A good percentage of people seem to believe in the science of climate change and the need to do something. But equally, a good percentage of people don’t seem to believe in a carbon tax. And are the same people talking about both subjects – they aren’t necessarily mutually inclusive or exclusive:

It is interesting that the age demographics in the two discussion topics are very similar. Very similar spread of discussion amongst the various age groups and it does seem that both subjects draw a lot of attention from the 21-50 year olds. There is a significantly higher proportion of females who converse on the subject of climate change / global warming than on the subject of a carbon tax where over 92% of the conversation is dominated by males.

So lets have a look at the relative activity levels for the past six months:

Here are the overall mentions for the terms ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’ for the last 6 months and though this doesn’t mean these conversations didn’t also include ‘carbon tax’ it’s clear many of them didn’t. So there is no direct linkage in the conversations. Whilst we believe this sentiment analysis is hard to confirm given the open nature of the terms being searched – it is clear that a lot of people are very neutral on the subject.

 

On the other hand here are the overall mentions for the term ‘carbon tax’ for the last six months. The number of conversations in blogs and forums is far less than for the other terms  though the conversation rates for twitter and traditional media are not far behind those above. This is interesting because the debate on a carbon tax only ignited in late Feb of 2011 with the governments announcement of an intention to introduce a carbon tax. The sentiment is much more reliable in this search as the term is much more definitive and it is interesting to note that contrary to opinion polls the social web, based on 90,000 different conversations rather than 1000 telephone calls is showing that a lot of people are still very neutral on this subject. Are they waiting for more detail?

Finally, it is interesting to review what is being said around these conversations. To do this we look at buzzgraphs which show what terms are commonly associated in the conversations around our key word searches:

On the left is the buzzgraph for traditional media discussing climate change and on the right for discussing a carbon tax. They are very similar with Gillard, Garnuat, Abbot and Monckton strongly related terms. On the carbon tax discussions however there is almost no association with ‘climate’ or ‘change’ but ‘poll’ or newspoll’ does show. Now let’s have a look at the same Buzzgraphs for Twitter:

A couple of things stand out immediately. We can see how quickly debate moves through social channels compared to the traditional channels. Notice how the terms are influenced by the topics discussed on Q & A in the previous nights discussion and to some extent to that of last week. And it seems that Joe Hockey, Adam Brandt, coal and cost were strongly associated with the debate but you have to feel sorry for Anthony Albanese who doesn’t even rate a mention yet was one of the key guests on the show! In fact, Gillard had a much stronger association with the conversation and she wasn’t in it – a true case of not talking to you, talking about you! The Buzzgraph on the left is the common words associated with a discussion of Climate Change on Twitter whilst the one on the right shows those terms commonly associated with Carbon Tax on Twitter.

Conclusions

Perhaps the only safe conclusion is that Australians are very much switched on by the topic of climate change – perhaps more so than the topic of a carbon tax to date. We can also say that social business can give us a broader insight into the opinions and sentiment of people than old fashioned telephone polls. And we can say that opinion tends to move more quickly through social channels than traditional media (hardly surprising).

We can also safely say that those taking part in these conversations still seem fairly open to persuasion – at least a large number of them. Perhaps they are waiting for a different kind of conversation to the one that has been held to date? What do you think?

Will B