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Liberal Homeowners Use Less Electricity

• March 07, 2013 • 9:00 AM

New research finds households headed by Democrats use less electricity than those headed by Republicans, apparently due to lower use of air conditioning.

It’s easy to preach about the importance of energy conservation. But are people in the left really willing to sacrifice personal comfort in the name of environmental protection?

Newly published research focusing on electricity usage suggests the answer is yes.

Two UCLA economists report that, in the area served by an unnamed utility in the Western United States, households headed by registered Democrats use less electricity than those headed by registered Republicans. This holds true after factoring in variables such as climate, the price of electricity, and the size and age of the homes in question.

The difference in kilowatt hours suggests that left-leaning voters are less likely to respond to uncomfortable heat by reaching for thermostat. “Liberal households engage in voluntary restraint, largely by lowering air-conditioning in the summer relative to conservatives,” Dora Costa and Matthew Kahn write in the journal Economics Letters.

Costa and Kahn used data from 280,470 single-family homes, comparing residential electricity bills for the entire year of 2008 with voter registration information. If more than one person’s name was on the bill, they went with the registration of the person whose name came first.

(Only 5 percent of the bills featured one Democrat and one Republican, providing further proof of the unusual nature of the James Carville-Mary Matalin marriage.)

“Relative to Republican registered households, Democrats consume 5.1 percent less electricity, and Green party registered voters consume 15.1 percent less,” they report. “This differential grows larger in the hotter summer months.

“We estimate that during the summer, Democrats consume 6.6 percent less electricity than observationally identical Republicans, while Green Party households consume 19.1 percent less electricity than Republican households. This larger summer differential is likely to be related to air-conditioning demand.

“Because electricity consumption is private information that is not observed by neighbors,” they add, “our results are explained by ideology—not by peer pressure.”

So while it’s hardly a complete answer to a looming problem, this research suggests that “voluntary restraint”—in this case, driven by political beliefs—“helps to mitigate the challenge of climate change.” It also tells cynics that the gap between belief and behavior may not be as wide as they assume.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

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