The Weirdest—and Best—Side Effect of Voting

Your vote can save the planet, no matter who you're voting for.

November 5, 2012

Congratulations! You just saved $8—and the planet.

Regardless of your political affiliation or which issues you hold most dear on Election Day, the one thing you can be assured of, if you vote, is that you're saving the planet.


Energy analysts at Opower, an energy analytics firm that works with 80 utility companies to help their customers monitor their home's electricity usage, just conducted a survey finding that voters are way more energy-efficient than nonvoters, regardless of age, political loyalties, or home size.

Before You Vote, Do This

"We were pretty surprised at how strong the statistical relationship is," says Barry Fisher, lead author of the survey. "When you hold all other factors fixed, the fact that electoral participation has a direct and meaningful impact on someone's energy consumption is fascinating."

Fisher and the company's statisticians used records from customers of the utilities it serves to calculate the energy usage of people living in one Eastern state and in one Western state, narrowing their list to about 137,000 people who had lived in their homes from January 2004 to August 2010. They compared the average annual energy use of those homes to public records showing who voted in all the primary, national, state, local and special elections held during that same time period. And without exception, the more frequently people voted, the less energy they used in their homes—and the fewer planet-warming greenhouse gases they emitted into the atmosphere.

Opower divided the pool of homeowners into "infrequent," "sometimes," and "frequent" voters. Those who qualified as "frequent" voters (voting more than nine times) used between 7 and 10 percent less electricity than "infrequent" voters (those voting fewer than three times). Basically, they found that casting a vote—for a Republican, Democrat, Third-Partier or anyone you'd like—is equivalent to saving $8 a year on your electricity bills.

3 Easy Ways to Save Energy This Fall

Fisher tried to pinpoint why it is that electricity usage goes down the more you vote. For one, adults over the age of 60 have the highest voter turnout of any age group. They also have fewer kids living at home (and therefore, fewer energy consumers), are less likely to fill their living rooms with power-hungry computers and game consoles, and may live on fixed incomes, which makes them more conscientious about energy use.

But when he started controlling for age in the calculations, Fisher says, they found that it didn't seem to matter. Whether you're 27 or 69, the more you vote, the lower your energy bills. Another possible reason? People who vote share the belief that everything they do makes a difference, whether it's casting a ballot or flipping a light switch.

So go vote, because it does make a difference! And use that $8 for a round of celebratory (preferably organic) coffees at your local independent coffeehouse.

Then when you get home, try these five tips for other changes beyond just flipping off the lights. They'll have a big impact on your utility bills.

1. Switch to compact-fluorescent or even LED lightbulbs, which are 90 percent more efficient than standard incandescent bulbs and 40 percent more efficient than compact-fluorescent bulbs, and they don't contain mercury.

2. Insulate around your windows, don't replace them. Most people assume that expensive window replacements are the only way to keep leaky windows from letting in the winter cold. That's not true, says James Brew, principal architect at the Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit think tank that advocates for energy efficiency. He recommends this easy—and much cheaper—weekend project: Remove the trim around your windows and the floorboards on the inside of your house walls. Take off outlet covers and pull the outlet out of the wall, as well (first, be sure to shut off the electricity to those outlets in your fuse box). Then, using a low-expanding foam sealant, start to fill in any cracks or small holes you might see. Use a lit incense stick or a candle to detect air leaks if you don't see any. The expanding insulation will fill any cracks that may have appeared over the years as regular insulation has settled or shifted.

3. Add insulation to your attic. Another easy weekend project, adding standard roll or blanket insulation to an unfinished attic space can prevent heat from escaping through your roof all winter.

4. Clean your refrigerator. Refrigerators use more energy than any other home appliance, but you can make yours more efficient by keeping it maintained. Vacuum the coils on the back, or on the bottom, of your fridge, and check its temperature. Put a standard food thermometer in a small glass of water on the middle shelf; the temperature should register 41°F, which is optimal for food safety but not so cold as to waste electricity.

5. Clean your dryer. Lint can build up in your dryer's hose and in the pipes running to the dryer's external vent, increasing your dryer's energy use by up to 30 percent. That not only creates a fire hazard, but it also prevents moist air from venting outside, which can cause mildew problems, particularly in winter. Vacuum out the lint filter using your vacuum cleaner's hose attachment. Then detach the dryer hose from both the dryer and the wall, and vacuum lint from the back of the machine and from the pipes where the hose attaches to the wall. Finally, head outside to clear any linty obstructions from your dryer's external vent.

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