Atlantic Cities

How Your Politics Influence Your Household's Carbon Footprint

How Your Politics Influence Your Household's Carbon Footprint
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Hat tip to Tom Jacobs at Pacific Standard for pointing us to this succinct study that proves the power of political ideology on the thermostat. Researchers at UCLA have cross-referenced energy billing data from more than 280,000 single-family home owners in California with their party registration, with this compelling result recently published in the journal Economics Letters:

Our main finding is that, all else equal, liberal households who live in liberal communities consume roughly 10% less electricity than conservative households who live in conservative communities.

The researchers, economists Dora Costa and Matthew Kahn, controlled for household demographics, climate conditions, electricity prices, and the age and size of homes to figure this out. And the effect is even more pronounced when we divide liberals into registered Democrats and Green Party members. Relative to registered Republicans, Democrats consume 5.1 percent less electricity, and Green Party members 15.5 percent less. That gap grows wider in the summer, with Democrats consuming 6.6 percent less energy than Republicans, and Green Party members 19.1 percent.

This suggests that Republicans are likely dialing up the air conditioner more in the summer – or, put another way, that liberals are retraining the impulse to do the same. The finding is particularly interesting given that household energy consumption is a private matter. No one on the block knows if you're living your politics by sweating in August inside an 80-degree house. As Costa and Kahn write, "This motivation is distinct from 'green conspicuous consumption' of publicly observable products such as solar panels on roofs or driving a Prius hybrid."

Next we'd like to see a study comparing liberal and conservative renters (homeownership data is obviously easier to correlate with political registration, so this may be a tough request). We already know that renters waste more energy than homeowners, in large part because they have no incentive to make major investments in things like energy-star appliances. But even climate-concerned renters can practice what they preach with the thermostat.

Top image: cowardlion/Shutterstock

Emily Badger is a former staff writer at The Atlantic Cities based in Washington, D.C. She now writes for The Washington Post. All posts »

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