Yes, Americans are divided – but not on the environment

by Jan 19, 2017

The results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election exposed some deep rifts in the American psyche and leave many of us feeling more divided than ever as Donald Trump takes office.

But according to our latest Energy Pulse results, it’s a mistake to assume that our differences extend to the environment and to energy policy. For example, our year-over-year trends show that a growing majority of Americans now believe in human-caused climate change (64% this year), and, despite the votes they actually cast in November, 64% of Americans also said it was important to elect a president who acknowledges that climate change is real.

What does this mean for marketers of energy efficiency? We tackle that meaty topic in this year’s Energy Pulse special report:

Playing the Planet Card: Is it finally time to talk about the environment to promote residential energy efficiency?

This year, for the first time, we asked respondents to participate in a mock presidential election. (Our survey went into the field just after the Democratic and Republican national conventions made their nominees official.) We asked them to vote as if energy and the environment were the only issues on the table (which clearly wasn’t the case in November), and we did not name the candidates, but instead outlined five distinct platforms that were based on those of real-life contenders for the presidency.

Which one was the winner? By a significant margin, Hillary Clinton’s platform. She garnered 32% of the overall vote with a platform based on renewable energy, phasing out fracking and coal, and support for Obama’s Clean Power Plan. In a tie for second and third place were a progressive environmental policy based on carbon caps and strong emphasis on combating climate change (Bernie Sanders, 21%) and a more laissez-faire policy that acknowledged climate change but questioned its causes and called for less intervention from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Jeb Bush, 21%).

Capturing 13% of the vote was Gary Johnson’s nuclear-centric environmental policy that labeled climate change as a man-made problem but called for free-market solutions. That means that 66% of Americans overall (including those who voted for the platforms of Clinton and Sanders) chose a platform explicitly acknowledging human responsibility for climate change.

The winner of our real-life election, Donald Trump – who labeled climate change a “hoax” and promised to eliminate the EPA – garnered only 14% of the vote.

We suspect that few Americans could name planks of any candidate’s real environmental platform, given that climate change played such a small role in the debates and rhetoric leading up to the election. But we believe that their underlying concerns about the planet they inhabit are very real – and very similar no matter what their political affiliation. Increasingly, underneath our overt differences, most of us want the same thing: a healthy environment.

What remains is to make a clear connection between home energy use and climate change (because our research also shows that Americans are utterly in the dark on that point) and position the average citizen as a potential hero for bringing the planet back to health. If you can make energy efficiency feel not only achievable and affordable, but also uplifting, you may just break the barriers that keep energy efficiency stuck in the doldrums.

Download the full report for more insights and marketing recommendations – including the messaging we think will move people on both ends of the political spectrum.

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About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

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