Beyond Policy Adoption: Implications of Energy Policy on Parties, Publics, and Individuals (Assistant Professor (AP) Energy Grant funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), 1. November 2017 – 31. October 2021, 922.068 CHF
Synopsis of the project (German synopsis)
In the past decades, and especially in the aftermath of the Kyoto protocol, national and subnational governments have implemented a great variety of climate change policy responses. Central to national responses are policies that target energy production and energy efficiency due to their large contribution to CO2 emissions. Thus, energy policies helping to decarbonize the economy by, e.g., switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy, have been a popular choice. Since there is no ‘silver bullet’ approach on how to best achieve energy transition, governments have experimented with different policy instruments. They have put a mix of subsidies, taxes, and emissions trading in place in an effort to steer industrial and private actors toward a low- carbon economy. Variations in national energy policy instruments are supposed to emanate from different electoral/political institutions as well as differences in interest group activity and public demand. This project moves on from the study of what determines countries’ energy policies to the timely and important question of what happens after policy adoption. In particular, it analyzes and disentangles the perception and evaluation of the redistributive effects of energy policies. Introducing a political science perspective makes an essential contribution to the study of the consequences of energy policies and, more generally, the design of effective and (politically) viable energy solutions to climate change.
Although numerous studies in energy economics have analyzed whether specific policy instruments are effective at reducing CO2 or, more important for policy makers, cost-effective, less attention has been paid to their redistributive potential. This project will substantially add to our understanding of how energy-related climate change policies affect actors’ incentives and preferences and what these effects mean for future policy change. While the advent of new interest coalitions may be good news in the energy realm because it can break ‘carbon lock-in’, redistributive concerns (e.g., of individuals not profiting or hurt by these policies) may also erode the societal consensus needed to push for further transition. Therefore, the research project studies the redistributive implications of energy policies on three groups of actors – individuals, publics, and political parties. Using insights from political economy, hypotheses on the specific effects of energy policies on party platforms, civil society actors, and individual voters will be developed.
While paying special attention to the Swiss context, the project compare the implications of energy policies across several countries and over time. This design makes it possible to evaluate the Swiss case in comparative perspective and to identify what makes it unique as well as the common features it shares with other countries. Analyzing the distributional effects of energy policy in a cross-country and longitudinal study framework allows this project to not only make a unique and substantial contribution to current, high-impact research in environmental politics, but to also provide political decision-makers with systematic and policy- relevant data on public opinion the political cleavages affecting and created by future energy policies.
There are three work packages (WPs) in our project, as we analyse the implications of energy policy on (1) individuals, (2) publics, and (3) political parties.
In WP 1 we are interested in the following questions regarding individuals: Do people understand the impact that energy policy and most importantly energy transition have on their self-interest? Do individuals show sociotropic or egocentric preferences regarding energy policy? Do energy preferences relate to electoral outcomes? These questions are addressed via different subtasks. Using observational data (Umit and Schaffer 2020; Schaffer 2021, Umit et al. 2019) as well as survey experiments (Schaffer and Umit 2021; Umit and Schaffer 2021), we study the sources of individuals’ energy policy preferences across different countries.
WP2 speaks to the overarching question whether public and private actors actually perceive redistributional aspects of energy policy as such. To this end, we study media discourses on energy-related policies in six countries that have varying redistributive potential according to our theoretical work and interviews with experts. In general, past decades have seen a sharp increase in the number of actors with preferences toward certain energy policy outputs (Schaffer and Levis 2021). Overall, we can observe an increased politicization of energy policy within news media. However, we find interesting variation in public energy discourses across both energy policy instruments and countries.
The core of WP3 is logically derived from our efforts in WP1 and WP2. Namely, if individuals realize the implications of energy transition policy and its redistributive potential, and energy policies are more central in the public discourse, we would expect parties to adjust their positions on energy policy. That is, we ask ourselves if given redistributive consequences for core constituencies, do parties realize their representative function and align their party positions? Preliminary evidence from 5 countries shows that indeed energy policy first becomes a more salient issue for parties and second parties’ do increasingly position themselves on energy issues (Lüth and Schaffer 2021).
Workshop on the “(Comparative) Political Economy of Energy Transitions”, Seelisberg (Uri) on 3-5 June 2019