Common Ground in an Era of Political Polarization: Green Consumption and Social Status

Friday, 20 July 2018: 11:45
Oral Presentation
Christine HORNE, Washington State University, USA
American public opinion is divided along political lines, with polarized views on the economy, healthcare, foreign policy, and increasingly, the environment. Existing research shows clear divisions between liberals’ and conservatives’ opinions of government involvement in environmental protection. However, it is unclear what people’s perceptions are of individual actions that can reduce environmental impact. We use mixed methods to understand liberal and conservative perceptions of proenvironmental household practices by focusing on the social status associated with green consumption and green behavior. Using a vignette experiment conducted with nationally representative samples of liberals and conservatives in the US, we find that both grant more status to green consumption than to green behavior. However, people expect Democrats (not Republicans) to grant status to both. Semi-structured interviews, conducted with liberals and conservatives, clarify people’s perceptions of the status dynamics associated with green consumption. Results suggest there is more common ground on proenvironmental household practices than is generally recognized – both liberals and conservatives react positively to green consumption. Our interviews show status attributions to green consumption reflect perceptions of wealth and success and moral commitments. In particular, liberal participants view those who engage in green consumption as more moral than those who engage in green behavior. People who do not purchase green products are aware of—and protest—these attributions of morality. Our findings challenge widespread assumptions regarding liberal support for and conservative opposition to proenvironmental household practices, and have implications for the development of policies aimed at encouraging households to reduce their environmental footprint.