EXCLUSIVE: What Lib Dem members think about nuclear power, fracking, tuition fees and online pornography

by Stephen Tall on September 15, 2013

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Almost 700 party members responded – thank you – and we’re publishing the full results.

In advance of this year’s federal conference in Glasgow, we asked about a number of hot-topic issues that are going to be discussed here over the next few days. here’s what you had to say about the issues being debated today, Sunday…

65% say yes to nuclear power

Do you believe that nuclear power, alongside oil and gas and renewable sources, should be part of the UK’s energy mix?

    65% – Yes, nuclear should be part of the mix

29% – No, nuclear power should play no part in the UK’s energy mix

6% – Don’t know

Two-thirds of Lib Dem members in our survey back nuclear power, by a more than 2-to-1 majority. This is in line with the previous two occasions when we’ve asked about nuclear power: in April 2011, 58% backed it; in August 2010, 68% were open to nuclear power (though the phrasing of the question was different). Increasingly within the party in recent years, nuclear power has come to be seen as the least bad, practical way of lowering the UK’s carbon emissions while assuring the UK’s energy supplies.

46% back ‘fracking’; but 36% opposed

“Fracking” is the method of fracturing shale rock under high fluid pressure using water, sand and chemicals to allow oil and gas to be freed for energy use. Based on your knowledge of this method, do you support or oppose fracking for shale gas in Britain?

    46% – Support
    36% – Oppose
    17% – Don’t know

‘Fracking’ for shale gas is much more controversial with Lib Dem members. Though a plurality of 46% support it, more than a third of members (36%) are opposed. Clearly as a relatively new technology, pretty much untested at scale within the UK, there is much more caution – that’s also reflected in the high figure of Don’t Knows (17%, or 1-in-6 Lib Dems). Today’s policy motion F10 – Green Growth and Green Jobs will be debated from 10.20 to 11.50 am – offers a guarded welcome. Given the closeness of this survey finding, much may hinge on the debate itself.

By 54% to 39%, members say drop pledge to scrap tuition fees

Current Lib Dem policy remains to scrap university tuition fees. At the party’s Glasgow conference it will be proposed to keep the tuition fees system introduced by the Coalition as “the best deal for students and taxpayers currently available”, but with a commitment to review the policy in the next parliament. What is your view?

    54% – I think we should drop the party’s commitment to scrap tuition fees
    39% – I think we should keep the party’s commitment to scrap tuition fees
    6% – Don’t know

A small but convincing majority of Lib Dems in our survey think the party should now abandon its commitment to scrapping tuition fees. I think there are probably two factors at play here. First, there’s a recognition that – whatever the follies of the U-turn – the Coalition’s new fees system is fairer (or at least less unfair) than the Labour system it replaced. And secondly, that the party risks derision if it goes into the next election campaign once again promising to scrap fees. However, free undergraduate education excites passionate debate within the party, so this afternoon’s debate promises to be an interesting one. It takes place from 3.25-5.00 pm as part of Policy motion F16, Learning for Life.

Children seeing online pornography: 55% support filters, 42% opposed

To what extent, if at all, do you think children seeing pornography on the internet is damaging to them?

    26% – Very damaging
    28% – Fairly damaging
    28% – Not very damaging
    5% – Not damaging at all
    11% – Don’t know

First, we asked whether party members think children seeing pornography on the internet might damage them in some way. A majority, 54%, think it could do so to a fairly or very damaging extent. A significant minority, 28%, thought children seeing pornography online would not be very damaging. 5% thought it would cause no harm at all, with 11% saying they don’t know. We then asked what, if anything, should be done to protect children…

Some people have called for Internet Service Providers to offer a service that filters internet sites and automatically blocks pornographic sites from people’s home internet service. Some people think that customers should have to choose to have their internet service filtered (an opt-in service), other people think that internet services should all be filtered unless customers ask for their service to be unfiltered (an opt-out service). Do you think internet filters should be opt-in or opt-out?

    39% – Opt-in (someone’s internet service should only be filtered if they ask for it)
    16% – Opt-out (people’s internet service should be filtered unless they ask for it not to be)
    33% – Neither – the focus should be on better sex and relationship education in all schools to help build resilience to the effects of internet pornography and other media
    9% – Neither – I don’t think internet pornography causes any/enough harm to justify further measures
    2% – Don’t know

The proposal in Policy motion F17, Protecting Children from Online Pornography – to be debated today from 5 to 6 pm – is for the second option – arguing that ‘adults wishing to view pornographic material should be required to opt in to websites containing such material by providing verifiable proof of age’. (Confusingly, the motion refers to opt-in though the system recommended is usually referred to as opt-out.) It gets short shrift from party members, with just 16% backing it. A plurality instead favour a system of opt-in, meaning the internet would only be filtered if adults specifically request that it should be. Overall, 55% support some form of filtering.

However, there is significant opposition to such measures. One-third of members in our survey say filtering is not the answer and that the emphasis must be instead on better sex and relationship education in all schools – after all, no matter how clever the filtering devices children will still get access to online pornography in some way. A further 9% say that they oppose any further measures as they don’t think there is sufficient evidence of harm to children from seeing online pornography. Overall, 42% oppose any form of filtering.

  • 1,500 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. 696 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 11th and 13th September.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past offered accurate guides to what party members think.
  • For further information on the reliability/credibility of our surveys, please refer to FAQs: Are the Liberal Democrat Voice surveys of party members accurate? and polling expert Anthony Wells’ verdict, On that poll of Lib Dem members.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.