Politics of Green Energy

Ken Ferguson
December 9, 2011

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2011


Do Americans believe in global warming? Are Americans as complacent about global warming and green energy as the media makes them out to be? What should a politicians stance on green energy be? Does it even matter if a politician states his stance on green energy?

Do Americans Believe in Global Warming?

Major headlines and quotes over the last few years have shown Americans to be complacent, uninterested, or unaware of global warming. [1-3] A headline from CBS in 2009 claims "Fewer Americans Believe in Global Warming." [1] In February of 2011, The Economist asked "Why Don't Americans Believe in Global Warming?" [2] A 2008 paper from Science states "The strong scientific consensus on the causes and risks of climate change stands in stark contrast to widespread confusion and complacency among the public." [3] These headlines appear to be in stark contrast with polls recent polls. [4,5] In her paper, "Toward a Deeper Engagement of the U.S. Public on Climate Change: An Open Letter to the 44th President of the United States of America," Susanne Moser points to a poll from ABC news, in collaboration with Planet Green and Stanford University which showed a resounding 80% of people believe global warming is probably happening, and 63% believe it is mostly caused by people and/or businesses. [5]

Should Politicians Take a "Green Stance?"

Why do people vote for certain candidates more than others? Much research has gone into this question. [6] Some social scientists believe in a concept called "policy voting," where one votes for the candidate that shares their attitudes on policy. Some believe voters are influenced by social media and how they think others will vote. This is known as the "Bandwagon Effect." [6] Voter's personalities also affect their choices. People who tend to be open to new experiences and more agreeable are more likely to vote for Democratic candidates, whereas people with emotional stability and conscientiousness are more likely to vote for Republican candidates. [7,8] The Huffington Post referenced a study at Stanford University which looked at how taking a "Green Stance" on global warming would influence voters. [9] This study assumed the biggest factor in political voting was in "policy voting," as fictional candidates were not assigned to a particular party. The results showed that taking a "green" position won votes for candidates, while taking a not-green position lost votes. [9] Candidates who took no stance on green energy were more likely to gain votes than those who took a not-green stance. The study also looked at candidates from the 2008 Congressional elections and their stance on green energy, along with whether they won the election or not. The results showed that when Republicans took a non-green or silent stance, Democrats were more likely to win if they took a green position. When Democrats were silent or not green, Republicans were more likely to win if they took a green or not-green position than if they took no position on green energy, and the study showed that, in general, a candidate who took a green stance was more likely to win the Congressional spot, than a candidate who took a not-green or neutral stance. [9]


Recent studies and polls seem to buck the idea that Americans do not have a solid understanding as to whether or not global warming is happening. A strong majority of Americans do believe global warming is happening, which is amazing given the fact that a strong majority of Americans can find very few issues to agree upon. Furthermore, if a politician were to take a "green" stance on energy, he should expect to garner more votes than if he had stayed neutral or taken a negative stance on green energy.

© 2011 Ken Ferguson. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] "Fewer Americans Believe in Global Warming," CBS News, 3 Mar 10.

[2] E. G. Austin, "Why Don't Americans Believe in Global Warming?" The Economist, 8 Feb 11.

[3] J.D. Sterman, "Risk Communication on Climate: Mental Models and Mass Balance," Science 322, 532 (2008).

[4] G. Langer, "Fuel Costs Boost Convservation Efforts; 7 in 10 Reducing 'Carbon Footprint'," ABC News, 9 Aug 08

[5] S. C. Moser, "Toward a Deeper Engagement of the U.S. Public on Climate Change: An Open Letter to the 44th President of the United States of America," Intl. J. Sustainability Communication 3, 119 (2008).

[6] J. A. Krosnick, P. S. Visser and J. Harder, "The Psychological Underpinnings of Political Behavior," in Handbook of Social Psychology, 5th Edition, ed. by T. S. Fiske, D. T. Gilbert and G. Lindzey (Wiley 2010).

[7] P. J. Rentfrow et al., "Statewide Differences in Personality Predict Voting Patterns in 1996-2004 U.S. Presidential Elections," in Social and Psychological Bases of Ideology and System Justification,, ed. by J. T. Jost, A. C. Kay and H. Thorisdottir (Oxford, 2009), p. 314.

[8] C. Barbaranelli et al., "Voters' Personality Traits in Presidential Elections," Personality and Individual Differences 42, 1199 (2007).

[9] "Politicians Should Address Climate Change Concerns, Study Says," Huffington Post, 14 Oct 11.