Powering Down

Apparently liberals act green even when no one is watching. A new study suggests that liberal households use less electricity than conservative households, despite the fact that they probably get little credit from their peers for doing so.

Liberals have plenty of ways to flaunt their green cred: taking reusable bags to the grocery store, buying a hybrid car, installing solar panels. But reducing electricity usage isn’t as conspicuous.

The study authors examined electricity bill data for households in the western U.S., collected throughout 2008. They also drew on credit bureau and voter registration data to determine income, ethnicity, political party affiliation, and other household information. Then the team compared electricity usage between left- and right-leaning households while controlling for factors such as climate, house size, the age of the house, and the cost of electricity.

Democrat and Green Party households used 5.1 percent and 15.5 percent less electricity, respectively, than Republican households, the team found. In the summer, those gaps increased to 6.6 percent and 19.1 percent, probably because left-leaning households didn’t crank up the air-conditioning as much. “Because electricity consumption is private information that is not observed by neighbors, our results are explained by ideology not by peer pressure,” the authors write in Economics Letters. Roberta Kwok | 15 March 2013

Source: Costa, D.L. and M.E. Kahn. 2013. Do liberal home owners consume less electricity? A test of the voluntary restraint hypothesis. Economics Letters doi: 10.1016/j.econlet.2013.02.020.

Image © ponsulak | Shutterstock.com



  • tom March 20, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    While I am unsurprised by this, I do wish that the label “liberal”, or “conservative” for that matter, would just die away. They are divisive, misleading, and have caused harm. This issue is simply common sense vs. thoughtlessness, and we all know many people who could be considered liberal that entirely lack common sense.


  • JayDC March 20, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    As a Liberal I’d like to think energy conservation is explained by m ideology (and in my case it is), but I wonder if household income is a better explanation for this behavior? Not that your income directly predicts your party, but pretty close in a lot of cases…Put in more biological terms doesn’t increased access to resources normally translate into increased consumption?


    • roberta March 22, 2013 at 9:39 am

      The study authors got household income data as part of the credit bureau data, and they say that they controlled for standard household demographics. So it sounds like they were comparing households of similar income levels against each other.


  • Ray March 25, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    How Our World Can Use 50% Less Watt-hours of Electricity:

    Here’s a new concept of reducing the Watt-hours used by 50%, by doubling the electricity’s frequency, using a variable frequency drive in series with a diode, to power various devices.

    If an electric clock is powered at twice its frequency, then it will run twice as fast. If the power is half-wave rectified, then it will run on time using half of the Watt-hours.

    This works! It electronically quickly turns the power ON and OFF. The power is switched OFF 50% of the time. The Watt-hours used are reduced by 50%. The frequency must be doubled to make the ON and OFF cycle quick enough. For example: 60 Hertz power has 120 ON pulses (or half-cycles) per second. Therefore 120 Hertz, half-wave rectified, is needed to have 120 ON pulses and 120 OFF pulses per second. This results in a 50% reduction of the Watt-hours used. Please try it using an incandescent light bulb.

    It can be easily empirically tested by obtaining an appropriate variable frequency drive and diodes.

    The ON and OFF cycle won’t be visually perceived in lighting for the same reason that flicker isn’t perceived in animation.

    It won’t be cheap, but it can be done slowly, over time, by the utility.

    Double the electricity’s frequency after the neighborhood’s step-down transformer and then half-wave rectify it in the drop wires to the consumer. You will be using 50% less Watt-hours of electricity, much less fossil fuels and pollution.

    It’s a win/win solution for everyone!


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