The stubborn 30% who remain opposed to a 3rd runway could be politically more important than those who support it

Heathrow airport frequently gets opinion polls done by Populus. These are phone polls, done by phoning randomly chosen numbers, in chosen boroughs. The script of the interviewer is not published, but earlier someone who received one of these calls wrote down as best she could at the time, the questions. There appeared to be some bias in the phrasing. Populus has not chosen exactly the same list of boroughs for their surveys, making comparison impossible. Heathrow says, in its survey conducted in 10 boroughs, between mid November and mid December 2014 that there was 50% net support for a 3rd runway, against 33% net opposition – from the boroughs of Spelthorne, Richmond Park, Brentford and Isleworth, Feltham & Heston, Windsor, Ealing Central & Acton, Uxbridge and South Ruislip, Slough, Hayes & Harlington, and Twickenham. A survey carried out in 7 boroughs from late February to late March 2014 showed 48% net support, and 34% net oppose.  A Populus survey of 6 boroughs in February to May 2013 showed 46% net support and 43% net opposition. A Populus survey in September 2007 (asking about a short 3rd runway) had 50% net support and 30% net oppose. So there really has not been a lot of change, though there are slight variations in the composition of the figures.


Detailed survey results below.


The stubborn 30% who remain opposed to a 3rd runway could be politically more important than those who support it

January 26, 2015 (By John Stewart, Chair of Hacan)

So, how much support is there for a third runway?

Heathrow – understandably from their perspective – made a big deal of this week’s Populus Poll which saw support edge up to just over 50% –

They have now crafted huge adverts around the findings.

Heathrow neighbours ad Jan 2015

The text reads: “More local people support than oppose Heathrow expansion. In a recent poll, 50% of those living around the airport were in favour of expansion and 33% opposed.

The reliability of the Populus polls has been questioned because of the way in which they have been conducted –  – but the key stat may be found in a 2007 Populus Poll.  The findings then were very similar to the results of this week’s poll.  It showed 50% in favour and 30% against –

Nothing much has changed since 2007 and critically around a third of people questioned remain opposed to Heathrow expansion.  Across London and the South East that adds up to over one million people.  And that’s a number to worry any Government.  It is a stubborn block of opposition that refuses to be swayed by Heathrow’s advertising blitz or Back Heathrow’s expensive leaflet drops.

I think, though, what Heathrow has achieved is bringing into sharper focus the support there is for a third runway.  That support – some of it active; a lot of it passive – has always been there.  It was simply not part of the narrative 10 years ago.

However, I suspect, when the next Government comes to consider the findings of the Airports Commission, it will be more interested in assessing the level of opposition when coming to a view about the political deliverability of a third runway that how much support it has.  It is the way of politics.

It is likely that a third of residents will continue to oppose expansion, some of them vehemently. As will the array of environmental groups. They were an important part of the coalition which saw off the proposals for a third runway last time round. And Heathrow has not sought to engage with them, nor Back Heathrow to influence them.

Most of the green groups have gone quiet since the third runway was dropped in 2010. Climate Change is their issue. They are not really interested in noise or flight paths. My soundings suggest they will be back if a new runway is given an amber light after the Election.

Heathrow understands there is little they can offer the environmental groups, so have not spent resources trying to influence them. Heathrow has concentrated its energies in try to offer residents and local authorities a better deal in terms of noise mitigation measures, jobs and compensation. But, so far, it has not shifted the million plus people inLondonand the South East who remain firmly opposed to expansion.




Text of phone script of Heathrow commissioned Populus poll shows degree of bias

In July to September 2014 Heathrow commissioned yet another telephone poll by Populus, on attitudes to its 3rd runway plans.  The poll showed 49% net in favour, 32% net opposed and 19% neither support nor oppose. The figures are broadly similar to polls in March 2014 (48% support, 34% against, 18% unsure), November 2013 or May 2013 and there was 50% support from a Populus poll in 2007.  Though Populus publish details of the numbers, they do not publish the script used for the phone interview.  An enterprising resident, irritated by the polls, noted the wording when telephoned – which indicates how much bias there is in the way the poll was conducted.  There was no mention that the poll was paid for by Heathrow.  The most dubious question is number 11 which asks: “Are you more or less inclined to support expansion of HRW (or maybe it was a 3rd runway?) knowing that it will mean:  11.1) An additional 41,000 jobs by 2030 (options more, less, or no difference); 11.2) Doubling youth training schemes from 5,000 to 10,000 places (options more, less, or no difference);  11.3) Reduction in number of people impacted by daytime aircraft noise (options more, less, or no difference);  11.4) Reduction in night time disturbance [not specific] (options more, less, or no difference).   Unbiased?



Populus surveys done for Heathrow show only 48% back its expansion (26% back it strongly, 23% oppose it strongly)

April 30, 2014

To quote Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli; “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” And so it is when opinion polls are done, and the organisation that commissions the poll wants a particular result out of it. Heathrow often gets Populus to ask people in boroughs near Heathrow what they think. They usually ask similar questions each time. One asks “Taking everything you know into account, do you currently support or oppose expanding Heathrow?” Over all boroughs surveyed, 26% strongly supported this; 22% somewhat supported; 11% somewhat opposed; 23% strongly opposed. See link So 48% support, and 34% oppose, with 18% neither supporting nor opposing. The figures were broadly the same a year earlier (with 46% supporting, but 43% opposing, and 10% neither supporting nor opposing). Heathrow says this is large, and growing, support. It is difficult to interpret the figures, as Populus only publishes a small bit of its results, with no methodology, such as the script of the interviewer, tone of the questions etc. Questions need to be asked about what information is given to people by Populus before they are asked their views.

Click here to view full story…   with more poll data …..



Download detailed results   Nov-Dec 2014 poll


Populus poll Heathrow Nov - Dec 2014 1


 Download detailed results  July – September 2014 poll

Populus poll Heathrow July to Sept 2014 1


Download detailed results   Feb – May 2013 poll

Heathrow Populus Feb - May 2013

 Detailed Populus poll results for September 2007 survey


Noise question in the Nov-Dec 2014 poll:

The Populus survey includes the question:

“Q.3 For each of the following please say whether it makes you more likely to support Heathrow expansion, less likely, or it makes no difference?
A reduction in the number of people impacted by day-time aircraft noise”

In order to make any sense of the responses to this question, it really would be imperative to get the full script of the interview. The question does not make clear whether the implication is that a 3rd runway would make the number of people affected by noise larger or smaller.  Without context, or being given a clearly worded question, the data is meaningless.


The jobs question

in the Nov-Dec 2014 poll:

The Populus survey includes the question:

Q.3 For each of the following please say whether it makes you more likely to support Heathrow expansion, less likely, or it makes no difference?

An additional 41,000 jobs supported directly and indirectly in the local area by 2030

Was there anything in the script to give credibility to the 41,000 jobs?  Was it implied these jobs would definitely happen?  Without context, or being given a clearly worded question, the data is meaningless.