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Renewable energy policy design and framing influence public support in the United States


The United States has often led the world in supporting renewable energy technologies at both the state and federal level. However, since 2011 several states have weakened their renewable energy policies. Public opinion will probably be crucial for determining whether states expand or contract their renewable energy policies in the future. Here we show that a majority of the public in most states supports renewable portfolio standards, which require a portion of the electricity mix to come from renewables. However, policy design and framing can strongly influence public support. Using a survey experiment, we show that effects of renewable portfolio standards bills on residential electricity costs, jobs and pollution, as well as bipartisan elite support, are all important drivers of public support. In many states, these bills’ design and framing can push public opinion above or below majority support.

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Figure 1: Support for renewable energy portfolio policies in each state.
Figure 2: The effects of each treatment on respondents’ support for a renewable portfolio standard in the respondent’s state.
Figure 3: The effects of each treatment on Democratic and Republican respondents’ support for a renewable portfolio standard in the respondent’s state.

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Funding for this research was provided by the MIT Energy Initiative. Thank you to D. Konisky and A. Berinsky, participants at UCSB PEPP, Columbia University LSS and APPAM 2014 for feedback on this research. We also appreciate logistical support from the MIT Political Experiments Research Lab (PERL).

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The authors contributed equally on all aspects of this article. C.W. was the principle investigator on the grant from the MIT Energy Initiative that funded this research, and managed the survey experiment with Survey Sampling International (SSI).

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Correspondence to Christopher Warshaw.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Supplementary Notes 1–2, Supplementary Tables 1–7 and Supplementary References. (PDF 234 kb)

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Stokes, L., Warshaw, C. Renewable energy policy design and framing influence public support in the United States. Nat Energy 2, 17107 (2017).

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