Civic responsibility breeds responsibility in other areas of life. It sounds cliche, but it’s more true than you might think according to an analysis from energy efficiency company Opower.
The company, which offers energy management tools for utilities and customers, sifted through its database to find electricity consumption data from 137,000 households (in either one eastern U.S. state or one western state) that also have public records indicating how many elections the head of household has voted in over the past eight years. The result: People who vote use less power.
After considering the 10 various elections that people could vote in since 2004, the correlation becomes fairly clear—voting goes up, electricity use goes down. Note: East coasters use more power because they rely more often on electricity for heat, not because they’re energy gluttons.
The differences are even more striking when Opower separates homes into "rare voters," "sometimes voters," and "frequent voters."
Opower has a handful of guesses as to why this is happening. It’s not because voters have smaller homes—all surveyed households average 1,900 to 2,000 square feet. And voters aren’t any more likely to use gas furnaces or other non-electric heating sources. But the average age of voters may have something to do with it. In Opower’s survey, frequent voters had an average age of 60, while "sometimes" voters averaged 55 and "infrequently" voters came in at 52. This is consistent with other studies on voter age.
At the same time, older voters tend to use less electricity, possibly because they have fewer electronic gadgets, fixed incomes (meaning they’re more thrifty), and generally have older children that have moved out of the house.
There’s more to it than that, though. Opower explains in a blog post: "Our analysis of the relationship between voting frequency and electricity usage suggests that, beyond age, there is something special about politically engaged Americans that also leads them to consume less energy." In the company’s analysis, every ballot cast by a voter between 2004 and 2010 was associated with a 66 kilowatt drop in annual electricity usage. That’s about $8 worth of electricity.
Opower puts forth a handful of theories about this: patriotism (and hence awareness of energy security), the higher level of engagement on issues like energy among voters, and faith in the power of individual actions like voting or saving energy.
We’d tend to agree with the latter point. If you’re the kind of person who thinks voting is pointless because no single vote decides anything, it would make sense for you not to care as much about your power consumption—after all, you probably think it doesn’t make a difference in the grand scheme of things.
Maybe the key to getting people to care about energy efficiency is civic engagement. But with just over half of Americans participating in recent presidential elections, we have a lot of work to do.