The debate over fracking seems to have excited a great deal of people. It's an existential crisis at the heart of the Conservative Party. It will 'threaten God's glorious creation'. It will reduce energy prices. Or maybe not. And that's before we start talking about the much-disputed environmental impacts or local communities' reactions when it might happen near them.
Is fracking really such a contentious issue? Yes and no.
A House divided
It's true that MPs are divided on party lines. Populus's MP Panel has shown that while 84% of Conservative MPs think shale gas development should be encouraged by the Government, only 44% of Labour MPs agree with this. The divide gets even starker when MPs are asked about their own constituencies: half (51%) of Tories would support shale gas exploration in their seats but 62% of Labour MPs would oppose it. Liberal Democrats MPs are only marginally less hostile than their Labour peers.
A nation united in apathy
What about the country at large? The general public is much less certain of its view and, to be honest, a lot less bothered about the issue. 30% of people are in favour of using fracking to extract shale gas in the UK, while 20% are opposed.
There are some interesting differences of opinion beneath these figures. 42% of men are in favour of fracking compared to only 19% of women (men are usually more gung-ho about things, whether it's fracking, nuclear power or HS2). People in AB socio-economic grade are almost twice as likely to support fracking than those in DE (40% to 23%). And Londoners are by far the most likely to support the practice (perhaps because it's unlikely to be near them). But 50% of people don't have an opinion one way or the other. The public is hardly itching to take sides in this phoney war.
The tipping point?
There is a segment of the population that is much more interested in the issue, however, and their opinions could be crucial.
Populus has identified the 10% of the population who are more engaged with issues in the public domain, much more likely to act on their opinion, and as they are widely respected by their peers they tend to lead public opinion generally. These Engaged Britons are much more supportive of fracking. More than half (54%) support using the practice to extract shale gas in the UK, compared to 20% who oppose it.
If the members of the public who are interested in issues like this support fracking, then it's unlikely that public opinion is going to force the Government to put a stop to it.
So for all the sound and fury it seems that fracking is here to stay.
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