a new way to bridge the political gap

Cost savings are the most compelling argument for changing Democrats’ and Republicans’ views on renewable energy, according to a new study. Messaging about benefits to a household’s bottom line has both the largest and most lasting effect, with little difference across the policy spectrum, suggesting that a focus on Cost savings could have bipartisan appeal, a rare opportunity to overcome political polarization over energy and climate in the United States. states.

Previous studies have shown that support for renewables depends on the benefits being claimed: some arguments in favor of switching to renewables prevail more than others. Previous research also suggests that cost is a major factor in people’s support for energy policy.

But so far, studies have mostly included messages pointing out that renewables could increase household energy costs. The research has not kept up with the rapid decline in the cost of renewable energy, which has now made renewable electricity cheaper than coal in many areas.

In the new study, the researchers set out to update the picture, as well as test two other aspects of renewable energy communication that have not been well covered in the past: how long do the effects last on people’s beliefs and whether Democrats and Republicans are reacting. different messages about the benefits of renewable energy.

“Renewables have many different benefits that could be emphasized when trying to change opinions and build support,” says Abel Gustafson, study team member, communications researcher climate at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio. “The results of our study suggest that, for both Democrats and Republicans, emphasizing the cost savings of renewables may be more compelling than emphasizing their ability to reduce global warming. or create jobs and stimulate the economy.”

Gustafson and his colleagues recruited Americans for an online study in which they asked people about their support for renewable energy, then asked them to read a short passage highlighting one of the three benefits of renewable energy: their potential to reduce household energy costs, stimulate the economy to important or mitigate global warming.

Next, the researchers again asked participants about their level of support for renewable energy policy, as well as their belief in a renewable energy statement that matched the passage each had read. About a week and a half and three weeks later, the researchers again asked people about their support and beliefs about renewable energy. A total of 2,071 people responded to the three surveys.

The message that renewable energy can reduce household costs was the most effective message by a number of different measures, the researchers report in the journal natural energy. It was most effective in changing participants’ immediate beliefs about renewable energy, had the most lasting effects on beliefs, and had the same effects among Democrats and Republicans. The cost savings message has also increased support for renewable energy policy across the political spectrum, albeit to a lesser extent.

The other two messages had smaller initial effects on beliefs and support for policies promoting renewable energy. Moreover, the researchers detected partisan differences in the immediate effect of these messages, and perhaps also in their durability.

The effects of all three messages diminished over time, showing a sharp decline during the first 10 days of the study and a plateau after three weeks. Overall, about half of the message effect on cost savings remained at the end of the study.

“The effect of almost any message fades over time, so it’s more about how fast it fades,” says Gustafson. “We have to keep in mind that these are the effects of reading a single short, textual message. If we see this level of persuasion durability with these relatively weak and basic messages, we can expect even greater durability with more compelling and engaging messages or with messages repeated multiple times.

Repeated and more comprehensive and persuasive messaging would also likely lead to greater support for renewable energy policy, rather than just changing people’s beliefs about renewable energy as seen here, he argues.

“We’re currently conducting research to try to determine what kinds of message and audience characteristics cause more or less durability in persuasive effects,” says Gustafson.

Source: Gustavson A. et al. “The Enduring and Bipartisan Effects of Renewable Energy’s Cost-Saving Focus.” natural energy 2022.

Image: ©Anthropocene Magazine.

Lee J. Murillo