Three weeks into motorway climate change protests, public opposition has only grown

Jemma ConnerSenior Research Executive
October 08, 2021, 10:30 AM UTC

Insulate Britain protesters have spent the past three weeks blocking junctions on various motorways around the country, to bring attention to the issue of climate change and petitioning the government to do more to make homes energy efficient.

The protesters have clashed with drivers and police, and the latest YouGov polling shows that the public's patience, and support, is waning – 72% now oppose the group's actions, up 13pts compared to when the protests first began in mid-September.

Just 18% of Brits now support the actions, compared to a quarter (25%) who backed the group three weeks ago. Even amongst people who listed the environment as one of the most important issues facing the country, opposition to the protesters now substantially outweighs support. Most of this group (58%) oppose the protesters’ actions, compared to just a third (33%) who support them.

The proportion of Brits who believe that this kind of protest hinders the cause of the wider climate change movement has also jumped. Almost three quarters (73%) of the public now say this sort of action damages public perceptions of the climate change movement, up 9pts on when this was originally asked after the first two days of protests. Just 5% think this kind of action is helpful to the cause.

Public oppose prison for protesters

In an effort to stop the protesters, the government has taken out several court injunctions to prevent protesters from blocking the M25, the Port of Dover, and various A roads in and out of London. Protesters who are served with an injunction face a fine or a prison sentence, but this has done little to deter activists, with over 100 Insulate Britain protesters being served with an injunction at the Royal Courts of Justice on Tuesday.

A previous YouGov survey showed that Britons support custodial sentences being an option for dealing with the protestors. However, the public seem more nervous about protestors actually being jailed in practice. The majority (57%) of the public oppose protesters being given prison sentences for blocking motorways, although a third (34%) would support such a punishment. Men are much more likely to support this approach to tackling protesters, with 39% supporting imprisonment compared to just 3 in 10 (30%) women.

See full results here