Panel Paper: Red, Blue, and Choosing Green: Political Ideology Affects Demand For Energy Efficiency

Saturday, November 9, 2013 : 8:00 AM
Plaza II (Ritz Carlton)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Dena Gromet1, Howard Kunreuther1 and Richard Larrick2, (1)University of Pennsylvania, (2)Duke University
Much attention has been given to the development of energy efficient technology as a way of addressing the problem of climate change, but the demand for energy efficiency has remained low due to a number of roadblocks (e.g., lack of information about energy savings; lack of immediacy about climate change concerns). Given these issues, one strategy for making energy efficient technology attractive to consumers has been to focus on its environmental benefits. This research demonstrates how this strategy can present an additional obstacle to individual adoption of energy efficiency in the United States due to the political polarization surrounding environmental issues.

We investigated whether relying on the environment to promote energy efficient products may, in fact, deter otherwise interested consumers from purchasing these products due to its unwanted value connotations. Across three studies, we examined the psychological value individuals place on energy-related concerns as a function of their political ideology, and the consequences these differing psychological valuations have for their energy efficient choices. We expected that labeling energy efficient products as environmental choices would be unattractive to conservatives, resulting in fewer choosing to purchase those options.

We conducted three studies to test this hypothesis. Study 1 (N = 657) demonstrated that more politically conservative individuals were less in favor of investment in energy efficient technology than were those who were more politically liberal. This finding was primarily driven by the lessened value that more conservative individuals placed on carbon emission reduction. Study 2 (N = 210) showed that this difference has consequences: In a real choice context, more conservative individuals were less likely to purchase a more expensive energy efficient light bulb when it was labeled with an environmental message than when it was unlabeled. However, labels signaling that one values energy independence produced less choice polarization (measured by the hypothetical selection of a more expensive hybrid car; Study 3; N = 609).

The results demonstrate that promoting the environment can negatively impact demand for energy efficiency. Although one of the primary benefits of energy efficient products is its gentler impact on the environment, not everyone identifies with valuing environmental protection. Our results indicate that those on the political right will avoid purchasing energy efficient options when the choice is reflective of concern for the environment–options which they would have otherwise purchased. However, although the value placed on reducing carbon emissions is divided along political lines, there is trans-ideological agreement about the value of energy independence, which reduces ideological choice polarization.

This research identifies an additional roadblock to the widespread adoption of energy efficiency in the United States: People have different values related to energy efficiency (associated with their political leanings), and the salience of these values can both attract and repel people from selecting energy efficient options. These findings highlight the importance of taking into account psychological value-based considerations in the individual adoption of energy efficiency technology in the United States and beyond.