Survey research is not as straightforward as it seems. Answers vary substantially depending on how a question is asked. This is known as the “framing effect” among survey researchers. Because of this effect, two surveys that seem to ask similar questions may arrive at starkly different results. Conflicting studies often end up in the headlines, leaving many confused and others quick to write off all survey research as invalid.
Two conflicting studies about energy use in America have been circulating in the press in the last couple of weeks. A recent GE study found that Americans are willing to embrace new energy behaviors to effect change. A different study found that Americans do not know how to conserve energy and do little to effect significant change. So which one is it?
The problem with the GE study is that it asks a hypothetical question about whether or not you would do the right thing. “Would you adjust your energy consumption habits and behaviors in the short-term to effect change long-term?” If the question is asked that way, few respondents will say no. We all like to think that we are good people and are willing to sacrifice some short-term needs to achieve greater good in the long-term. However, when it comes down to investing money in energy efficient appliances, the latter study finds that Americans are unlikely to ultimately do the right thing, especially in this economy.
Demand side energy research has grown substantially with the proliferation of smart grid technologies and its corresponding stakeholders. Studies show up in the headlines on a daily basis, many of which have conflicting findings. In this case, many Americans SAY that they are willing to embrace new energy behaviors to effect change, but ultimately do not. Unfortunately at this point, we are talking the talk, but not walking the walk.