Liberals and Lightbulbs

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A few weeks ago, in a post that was mainly a response to Jonah Goldberg’s dismissive attitude toward renewable energy, I mentioned a recent study showing that although liberals and conservatives were about equally likely to buy an energy efficient CFL lightbulb even if it cost more than an old-school bulb, conservatives were less likely to buy the bulb if the packaging included the message “Protect the Environment.”

That’s what the abstract of the article said, anyway: “Conservative individuals were less likely to purchase a more expensive energy-efficient light bulb when it was labeled with an environmental message than when it was unlabeled.” But Tim Carney points out that there’s a little more to it than that:

Most of the coverage of this made it sound like only conservatives were turned off by the label, and that it was clearly for petty reasons. While really, most people, including generally liberal people, became less likely to buy the bulbs with the label.

The green line in the chart shows how likely people are to buy the bulb with the environmental message. And Carney is right: It crosses below the gray line at an ideology score of -0.6, right in the middle of the liberal spectrum. Just about everyone was turned off by the message except hardcore liberals.

That’s actually kind of interesting. And it also shows the danger of relying on a journal abstract when you don’t have access to the full paper. It’s not that the abstract was wrong—increased conservatism was associated with increased resistance to the message—but there’s more to the story.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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