Changing the clocks by an hour every spring and autumn under current EU summertime arrangements (daylight saving time) could end following a continent-wide open public consultation arranged by the European Commission.
In 2017 a report by the European Parliament raised debate around the EU Directive 2000/84/EC regulated time change. This summer, an open public consultation was organised by the Commission to investigate the functioning of the current policy to inform whether it needs to be changed.
The consultation used an online questionnaire to understand European citizens' overall experience with the bi-annual time switch and their preference for either maintaining the current system or abolishing it for the whole of the EU.
There were 4.6 million responses – overall, 84% of respondents were in favour of abolishing the bi-annual clock change. Findings for UK respondents also reflected this, with 81% wanting to abolish these arrangements.
However, despite the huge number of responses, and as the Commission’s report of results acknowledges, public consultations are not statistically representative. While anyone from the population of interest can take part, respondents are likely to be those who are particularly engaged with that specific issue, or have interests that make them likely to hear about the consultation. This group is likely to be different to the rest of the population. Equally, other people directly affected by the legislation may not have been aware of the consultation at all.
To see whether or not the consultation approach might have affected the conclusion that ‘citizens and stakeholders in all Member States are overall in favour of abolishing the bi-annual clock change’, we asked members of the probability-based NatCen Panel four similar survey questions. As much as possible, we kept the questions as similar to those asked in the consultation, though some edits were made as the original questions had a very strong focus on the EU:
So what difference did it make?
In comparison to the findings of the consultation, a statistically significant majority (55%) felt that we should keep the current arrangements for daylight savings while the remaining 45% would like it to be abolished. These results correlate to experiences of changing the clocks twice a year: 91% of those who had a negative experience of this wanted to abolish it; 88% of those who had had a positive experience of this wanted to retain it.
Fig. 1: Whether to keep or abolish current daylight savings arrangements
How might we explain this difference?
One place to look is the ‘apathetic’ respondents. Just 5% of those taking part in the consultation expressed ‘no opinion’ on their experience of switching between wintertime and summertime, compared to 36% of those in our representative sample of people Britain. Similarly, the consultation reported that more than 90% of respondents rated the importance of abolishing/keeping daylight savings as 7 on a scale of 0-10, compared to just 43% of our participants.
Digging a little deeper, we can see that at least some of the difference might be explained by this group with no opinion, who, in our data, were significantly more likely to support keeping daylight savings arrangements as they are.
Fig. 2: Whether to keep or abolish current daylight savings arrangements by positive or negative current overall experience of daylight savings arrangements
There are many other factors that will need to be taken into account before new legislation is introduced. There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that changing the clocks has a negative effect on health. The proposed change in the law still needs approval from the 28 national governments and MEPs to become law and is set to be debated by commissioners. Our findings suggest it is a topic which divides opinion. For now, changes to daylight saving time arrangements do not appear to be coming in anytime soon so remember to change your clocks this Sunday and enjoy the extra hour of sleep!