Enabling change: experimental insights on electricity policy acceptance

Dermont, Clau; Stadelmann-Steffen, Isabelle (1 September 2016). Enabling change: experimental insights on electricity policy acceptance (Unpublished). In: Annual Meeting & Exhibition of the American Political Science Association (APSA). Philadelphia, USA. 31. Aug. - 04. Sept. 2016.

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Global warming and the unsolved issues in nuclear power technology (e.g., nuclear waste disposal, security) challenge the global community to change the energy supply and reduce energy consumption. In the electricity sector and namely after Fukushima 2013, ‘change’ includes the phasing out of nuclear energy as decided by several nations in Europe such as Germany and Switzerland. The next steps to make the transition from the fossil and nuclear energy age towards alternative and renewable electricity demand not only a solution how to finance the phasing out. Increasing the share of renewable electricity is seen as indispensable to solve the energy supply dilemma.

But what leads to citizens’ acceptance of renewable electricity policies and their implementation?

Traditional approaches on ‘green’ solutions and their acceptance within the population encounter several practical and methodological issues. First, just because a citizen is in favor of a certain action, e.g., saving electricity, does not mean that this citizen will actually do it (value-action gap). Second, survey research faces the problem of social desirability, i.e., citizens may identify themselves as more ‘green’-friendly than they actually are in order to satisfy the researcher. And thirdly, when researching votes where citizens were asked to accept or reject a given policy, political behavior research has thus far usually been limited to ex post analysis.

Especially when citizens take on the role as decision makers through their vote in the direct democratic arena, it is preferable to know in advance which policy solution (such as incentive/steering taxes, subsidies or bans on technologies) or mix thereof has a realistic chance at the ballot box. Policy makers usually have several instruments and policy options at hand when drafting future policy. While opinion polls give insights in public opinion, traditional approaches encounter the mentioned problems of social desirability and the value-action gap and leave policy makers in the dark on how citizens will actually react to a proposal for change. However, an experimental approach could unravel these challenges and offer more insights into political behavior by citizens when asked about possible policy solutions and how they would vote in the future.

Following these considerations, we present results based on a large-scale survey with a representative sample for Switzerland, which allows us to develop empirically on individual acceptance on socio-political level. Our factorial experimental survey design allows us to confront respondents with varying and randomly assigned proposals for renewable electricity policies. Based on a forced-choice paired conjoint, we evaluate constellations of policy features which lead to the acceptance or rejection by citizens in the context of Swiss direct democracy.

From a societal and practical point of view, our results will allow to accompany the transition process and supply more refined information on public opinion regarding various designs of renewable electricity policies. Moreover, we hope to contribute to political behavior research on how citizens react to suggested transitions by the political elite. Similarly, the learning on citizens’ behavior can be included into policy studies research, providing insights into how future policies should be designed to be accepted by the citizenry generally, and not only in electricity policy.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


03 Faculty of Business, Economics and Social Sciences > Social Sciences > Institute of Political Science

UniBE Contributor:

Dermont, Clau, Stadelmann, Isabelle


300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology > 320 Political science




Isabelle Stadelmann

Date Deposited:

28 Jun 2017 12:40

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:04

Additional Information:

Session "Global Politics and Energy Transitions", Division 39: Science, Technology and Environmental Politics



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