Clean energy cost savings motivates Republicans and Democrats alike


Communication researchers from three universities have been studying how the framing of energy policy communication is able to influence participants’ views differently, depending on their political ideology. Whereas the vast majority of existing studies have examined the effect of messaging immediately after the message was delivered, this study sought to measure the ‘durability’ of messaging, using a three week waiting period.

The study found that after three weeks, the “cost savings” of renewables was the most memorable, or “sticky”, subject in the minds of participants. Participant’s responses to cost savings messaging remained the same at both the initial and the second meeting, and were shown to remain consistent across political parties.

Prior research from this group found that Republican support for renewable energy policies were influenced more from framing communications around renewables’ low cost and economic benefits, whereas Democrats’ support for renewable energy policies were influenced more by their concerns about global warming. The authors also noted that previous research indicated that news of higher renewable pricing caused more negative reactions, than news of environmental benefits caused positive reactions.

It’s long been known that “people tend to be more motivated to avoid losses rather than to capture equivalent gains”. With that, the authors found that framing a cost increase as a “threat” was more effective at influencing participants’ beliefs than highlighting “cost savings”, despite the identical financial consequences of both messages.

Messages presented to participants by researchers

In the paper, The durable, bipartisan effects of emphasizing the cost savings of renewable energy, participants were shown one of three messages (above) concerning renewable energy, and a benefit from the product. The researchers then measured the beliefs about renewable energy’s benefits and the percentage of support they received from participants. They sampled participant responses two more times over the course of 23 days.

The key results found that cost savings messaging (middle) had the largest, and most durable effects on beliefs, followed by the economic benefits and jobs message (left). The global warming message (right) was the least effective at changing participants’ views.

Results of three rounds of research participants, second two round after messaging shown

The cost savings results showed an initial increase in receptiveness, far exceeding that of the economy/jobs and global warming messages. In these times of extremely high fossil fuel pricing, it is no surprise that demand for solar panels has driven hardware pricing up. The results of the global warming messaging seemed to show very little benefit among Republicans, and may have actually caused a negative response. Messaging about jobs and the economy had less of an effect on Democrats than Republicans.

A total of 1,403 Republicans, and 1,488 Democrats were initially questioned. By the third round, 893 Republicans and 1,178 Democrats were left.

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