Even Conservative Voters Want the Environment to Be at the Heart of Post-COVID-19 Economic Reconstruction in the UK


  • Ben Kenward
  • Cameron Brick


In 2019, the environment began to rival the economy among priority issues for the UK public. The COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to shift this balance in either direction, because the crisis is not only causing serious economic damage but is also highlighting the usefulness of expert warnings. The current work examines the balance between public prioritisation of environment and economy in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic. A nationally representative YouGov sample of 1654 UK adults were presented with two political speeches, either linking COVID-19 to climate and prioritising environment as part of planned economic recovery, or separating the issues and stating that environmental prioritisation is now unaffordable. Most participants (62%) were positive towards the environmental prioritisation speech, and it was more popular than the other speech (which 36% were positive towards). The same proportion of Conservative voters (62%) were positive towards the environmental prioritisation speech (with 50% positive towards the other speech). Higher support for the environmental prioritisation speech was associated with more education but not with socioeconomic status. Voting history and socioeconomic status were therefore less predictive of differences in support for the speeches than expected based on previous research. Consistent with these results is the suggestion that environmental concern in the UK is becoming less tied to social identity and more tied to concern for personal well-being. These findings suggest that foregrounding environmental concerns is politically realistic in post-COVID-19 economic policy, consistent with suggestions from economists and environmental scientists that an environmental focus is feasible and necessary.