Ditching environmental commitments could cost the Conservatives 1.3 million votes, a think tank has warned.
A poll carried out on behalf of centre-right think tank Onward found two in every five people who voted Conservative in 2019 would be less likely to vote for the party again if it abandoned its commitment to reach net zero by 2050.
Support for net zero was higher among northern Conservative voters than southern Tories, which Onward suggested meant abandoning the policy could cost the party many of the Red Wall seats it gained in 2019.
It is striking that, even in the midst of a terrifying cost-of-living squeeze, voters from different social backgrounds want politicians to stay the course on green policies
With only 18% of former Conservative voters saying they would return to the party if it abandoned its net zero targets, Onward estimated that such a move would see up to 1.3 million voters abandon the Tories.
Will Tanner, director of Onward and a former Downing Street adviser to Theresa May, said: “It is not only untrue to say that the Conservative Party’s electoral prospects are undermined by a commitment to net zero, but the opposite of reality.
“Voters overwhelmingly back action to protect the environment, support the deadline that Parliament introduced in 2019, and will punish any party that reneges on those promises. This is as true, or truer, for the Conservative Party’s new coalition as for its old guard.”
The findings come after Boris Johnson appeared to rebuke members of his own party who have been pushing for the UK to water down its commitments to net zero in the face of the cost-of-living crisis.
During his trip to India, the Prime Minister said he wanted to do everything possible to “alleviate the cost of living”, but added it was “very important to understand” that there is “a lot of prejudice against the green agenda”.
The poll also found that 55% of voters thought the war in Ukraine was a reason to press ahead with net zero targets, opposed to just 28% who thought the UK should slow down.
Overall, almost two-thirds of voters support net zero policies while just 9% oppose them, and 58% of voters agreed that “even if it’s going to be expensive, we need to stop damaging the environment”.
Rachel Wolf, co-author of the 2019 Conservative manifesto and founder of Public First, which carried out the poll, said: “The public wants clean energy we can control. Far from undermining this support, rising living costs and the crisis in Ukraine have cemented it.
“It is striking that, even in the midst of a terrifying cost-of-living squeeze, voters from different social backgrounds want politicians to stay the course on green policies.”