Read the Newspoll headlines in today’s Australian with Dennis Shanahan’s byline running neatly underneath and you’d be under the impression that young people are so concerned about their plummeting share portfolios that they think an Emissions Trading Scheme should be delayed or thrown out entirely. If you believe Shanahan, the market meltdown has shoved worries about melting icebergs way down the list of public concerns.

Crisis puts ETS on back burner: Newspoll, goes the headline. And then on to page four for the clincher: “Young turn against 2010 deadline”.

“Fears of the global financial crisis are driving people from the Rudd Government’s carbon reduction plans, with most Australians now either against an emissions trading scheme or wanting it delayed beyond 2010,” writes Shanahan. “While an overwhelming majority of people still want the Government to cut carbon emissions and strongly approve of Kevin Rudd’s economic crisis management, 51 per cent now want the emissions trading scheme either delayed or abandoned.”

But Auspoll’s GM John Armitage has told Crikey that he has concerns about the Newspoll.

“We have a number of problems with the way this question was put together,” Armitage told Crikey. “In researcher parlance it’s what we call a ‘loaded’, ‘double barreled’ question. What we mean by ‘double barreled’ is that it is really two questions stacked on top of each other. These types of questions make it unclear which of the two issues people are reacting to,” says Armitage.

Here’s the double barrelled question put to respondents:

Under a carbon pollution reduction scheme, the price of energy sources, such as petrol, electricity and gas may become more expensive. Do you think the federal government should delay or should not delay the introduction of the carbon pollution reduction scheme beyond 2010 because of the recent financial crisis?

This is “a very loaded question as it links a dreaded petrol price rise to the introduction of the scheme,” says Armitage.

Armitage, one of a number of pollsters who conduct polling for The Climate Institute, suggests that a balanced question might put the strongest case from each side and have read something like this:

On one hand the carbon pollution reduction scheme will increase the cost of petrol, electricity and gas. On the other hand the scheme will make the big polluters take responsibility for the damage they are doing to our environment and it will safeguard our children’s future. Taking both of these things into account do you think the Federal Government should speed up or delay the introduction of the carbon pollution reduction scheme?

“I understand that Newspoll is chasing some publicity for their polls and that’s fair enough,” says Armitage. “But especially given the high stakes in the climate debate I would have thought Newspoll would have presented more balanced and credible research.

Erwin Jackson from The Climate Institute told Crikey, “The support amongst the community for action on climate change remains very strong.”

“We polled on the weekend after Black Friday. The results that we were getting were only 22 per cent of the population thought the financial crisis was a reason to delay,” says Jackson.

“The bigger risks for the government is that based on our focus groups, rightly or wrongly, the community thinks the government are dithering and is looking for strong, credible targets from both major parties… Over seventy per cent of people agree that taking action on climate change will create opportunities for new jobs and new clean energy industries.”

As for the implications of delaying an ETS, Jackson says that based on The Climate Institute’s independent research, there is a real risk that “the community will lost patience.”

“There is already a growing concern within the community that the big polluters will be getting billions of dollars worth of free handouts and also to build momentum internationally, Australia needs to go to the next round of climate talks with credible and decisive plans to significantly reduce emissions,” says Jackson.

“In relation to the market turmoil the Prime Minister recently linked the current global financial turmoil to ‘the triumph of the short term over long term, sustainable growth’. The long-term risk and impacts of runaway Climate Change would dwarf that of current financial turmoil,” says Jackson.

“Global warming is not waiting and nor should we in implementing the necessary long-term plan to reap the benefits of the 21st clean-energy economy.”