Common ground: Study finds bipartisan support for renewable energy

Alex Crees
By Alex Crees
For business

On Election Day, much of the country has been divided into two camps, but a new study indicates there may be at least one area of common ground between them: support for renewable energy.

According to researchers from Washington State University, U.S. voters tend to be in favor of renewable energy, regardless of political affiliation, age or gender.

This isn’t the first study to come to that conclusion: a 2016 study by the Pew Research Center found 83 percent of Republicans and 97 percent of Democrats supported solar farms.

Similarly, a Vanderbilt University study that same year concluded that conservative states were as likely to support renewable energy and energy efficiency policies as liberal ones.

That’s not to say their opinions of renewable energy are uniform: per the WSU researchers, there is still evidence of an ideological divide between the two groups, meaning the reasoning behind their support for clean energy tends to vary along party lines.

Conservative support for renewable energy

As part of the study, the researchers conducted in-person interviews of 64 registered Democrats and Republicans across Washington state to better understand their views of renewable energy.

Questions posed to the participants were intended to gauge their opinions of environmental protection and people who engaged in pro-environmental behaviors, such as installing solar systems, as well as their own interest in installing solar panels.

The researchers also conducted a larger, nationwide survey online, asking participants what they thought of a hypothetical family in their neighborhood that had recently installed solar panels on their home.

What the researchers found was that conservative participants saw pro-environmental actions and investing in renewables as “both financially savvy and a step to self-sufficiency.”

“Rather than seeing their conservation behaviors as tightly bound to environmentalism, conservatives were more likely to see them as a wise use of resources,” the researchers said.

For example, one of the Republican participants interviewed, Ronald, described his decision to buy a Prius in financial terms: “The reason why that [Prius] is there is because the truck cost my wife $550 in one month on diesel fuel,” he told the researchers. “I will always go for anything where I can save a buck.”

Likewise, another participant, Sheri, who described re-using containers, trip-chaining to reduce driving and recycling bottles, answered this when asked whether these actions reduced her environmental impact:

“Well, I guess. But definitely also we’re motivated by financial considerations. But I guess they go hand-in-hand. If you’re not running your car, you’re not using the gas, and not spending the money.”

Asked later if she ever bought ‘green’ products, Sheri said, “No, I can’t bring myself to pay that much so I actually make a lot of my own cleaning products for home. We were at a town festival recently and there was a vendor there that was selling this ‘green’ soap. You know, that was supposed to be so much better for the environment and you only had to use a teaspoon of it. I loved it, but it was going to cost four times more, five times more than what we were already doing.”

According to the researchers, most conservatives interviewed approved of households with solar panels, describing them as ‘smart, frugal, and self-sufficient.’  They believed people who installed solar panels were more motivated by financial concerns, rather than environmental ones.

“Conservative support for renewables stemmed from their belief that people with solar panels are trying to be self-sufficient, are wealthy enough to afford solar panels, and are financially savvy because they are reducing their costs in the long run,” the researchers said. “Such concerns provide evidence that conservatives see solar PV as being a wise-use of financial resources and as a signal of the self-sufficiency that is a hallmark of a good person.”

Liberal support for renewable energy

By now, liberal support for green energy has long since been established.

In the study, liberal participants, like the conservative ones, associated renewable energy with self-sufficiency, but they also strongly linked renewable energy with moral motivations.

“[They] expressed a sense that protecting the environment, rather than self-sufficiency, is a core part of being a good person,” the researchers said.

Cheryl, a Democrat, envisioned the following about a hypothetical family with solar panels on their home: “They would probably very sincere about their impact on the environment. They would probably be vegan or vegetarian, they would probably limit air travel, that sort of thing.”

Judy, also a Democrat, agreed, saying, “I know that’s somebody who’s trying really hard not to leave a big carbon footprint.”

Democrats in the study also tended to describe their own pro-environmental actions in more emotional terms.

“When I signed up for renewable energy sources through the electricity company that’s, there’s a slight cost, but I feel really good about it,” one participant said. “Wind and water, I mean hydro and solar generation. I think it’s an emotional plus!”

Alex Crees is a writer covering issues related to energy, the environment and politics.  Her work has appeared in Fox News and Prevention. Alex earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from New York University.