Thought Leadership

Increasingly Polarized Political Climate Threatens Widespread EV Adoption

February 15, 2022
Negative Consumer Sentiment and Opinion About Electric Vehicles

By all measures available to the casual observer, 2021 was a banner year for the advancement of electric vehicles (EVs). Across the automotive spectrum, EVs dominated headlines and attention—from President Joe Biden driving an electrified American icon in the Ford F-150 Lightning, to the debut of the stunning Audi e-tron GT, a truly aspirational luxury sedan with a fully electric powertrain. And sales were rapid, nearly doubling their pace—it took just over six months of EV sales in 2021 to eclipse the total sales volume for all of 2020.

But beneath the surface, the story is not quite so rosy. The automotive industry continues to grapple with a global chip shortage that is likely to get worse before it gets better, tamping down the industry’s ability to build and sell all kinds of vehicles, especially EVs—meaning even pre-orders for vehicles set to be delivered months or years down the road sell out in just minutes. Subsequent low inventory concerns have led to customer perceptions of a high-demand, low-supply market that favors dealers and sellers, causing many to put off shopping for cars altogether. Further, major misconceptions about the capabilities of EVs persist, leaving many would-be buyers to not seriously consider EVs from the start.

But one trend, in particular, threatens the hopes many have for widespread EV adoption—an increasingly polarized political landscape that has turned solutions to climate change, such as electrified cars and alternative energy sources, into toxic propositions among conservatives.

As part of our latest EVForwardTM market profile report, conducted in mid-2021, we found some surprising figures. For the first time since we launched EVForward in 2019, opinion and sentiment regarding EVs fell:

  • The number of participants who see EVs as a “passing fad” or “stupid idea” grew five percentage points, from 13% in past reports to 18% in 2021. Similarly, those perceiving EVs as “the future” or “an interesting idea” fell five percentage points, from 87% to 82%.
  • While liberals’ responses remain consistent with those from past surveys, conservatives drive the drop in sentiment—with a 7% shift from positive to negative sentiment.

The ongoing national political debate about the impact of and solutions to climate change ramped up in a big way following the inauguration of President Biden, who appealed to the progressive wing of the Democratic party by supporting the concept of a “Green New Deal” (expanded federal spending to boost green and alternative energy production) as well as investments in new technologies to reduce the use of fossil fuels, including EVs. When paired with the significant uptick in EV marketing observed nationally in 2021, particularly by legacy automakers with household names, the legislative conversation put EVs on the radar of shoppers in a new way and reached those who were previously unfamiliar with the technology.

While sentiment and opinion dipped in our latest report, familiarity and exposure both rose. Respondents who indicated they “know EVs well” inched up by 2%, while those who had exposure to EV owners increased by 5% to 31% of all respondents. Automakers must now ask themselves a stark question—is there a large (and growing) segment of “unwinnable” shoppers who will not turn to EVs no matter how good or comparable they are to traditional gas-powered cars?

In order to get ahead of that looming question, automakers need to find engaging ways to upend these misconceptions—new and old—among conservatives, who represent an increasingly aware, familiar and skeptical audience. At the same time, automakers must be wary of causing conservatives to feel they are having EVs forced upon them.

To learn more about the latest EVForward market report insights and the misconceptions that EV makers must combat, connect with our Automotive & Mobility team by sending us a note today.

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About EVForward™

The EVForward mid-year market profile report was conducted among a national sample of 5,005 respondents between July 14 and August 9, 2021. These respondents are a subset of the EVForward database, a global sample of more than 40,000 new-vehicle buyers aged 18 to 80, weighted by age, gender and location to match the demographics of the new-vehicle buyer population and by vehicle segment to match current vehicle sales. The sample for this research comes from an opt-in, online panel. As such, any reported margins of error or significance tests are estimated and rely on the same statistical assumptions as data collected from a random probability sample. Escalent will supply the exact wording of any survey question upon request.

Mike Dovorany

Mike is a former vice president with Escalent's Automotive & Mobility practice.