Salil D. Benegal‎ > ‎


My research primarily examines public opinion on climate change and environmental policy policy, and the political and economic factors that influence these attitudes. Here you can find a brief overview of recent and forthcoming papers.

Peer reviewed journal articles
Correcting Misinformation About Climate Change: The Impact of Partisanship in an Experimental Setting. (With Lyle Scruggs, 2018. Climatic Change.)
Misperceptions of the scientific consensus on climate change are an important problem in environmental policy. These misperceptions stem from a combination of ideological polarization and statements from prominent politicians who endorse information contradicting or misrepresenting the scientific consensus on climate change. Our study tests a source credibility theory of correction using different partisan sources of information in a survey experiment. We find that corrections from Republicans speaking against their partisan interest are most likely to persuade respondents to acknowledge and agree with the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change. The extent of these effects vary by the partisanship of the recipient. Our results suggest that the partisan gap on climate change can be reduced by highlighting the views of elite Republicans who acknowledge the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change. 

Media coverage of this paper at the Washington Post and NPR Michigan Radio.

The Spillover of Race and Racial Attitudes into Public Opinion about Climate Change. (2018, Environmental Politics.)
This study examines the relationship between racial attitudes and public opinion about climate change. Public opinion data from Pew and ANES surveys are used to show that racial identification and prejudices are increasingly correlated with climate change opinions during the Obama presidency. Results show that racial identification has become a significant predictor of climate change concern following Obama’s election in 2008, and that high levels of racial resentment are strongly correlated with reduced agreement with the scientific consensus on climate change today. These results offer evidence for an effect termed the spillover of racialization. This helps further explain why the public remains so polarized on climate change, given the extent to which racial grievances and identities have become entangled with elite communication about climate change and its related policies today.

Overconfidence and the discounting of expertise: A commentary (2018, Social Science & Medicine.)
This commentary discusses the role of overconfidence and how it may help explain the persistence of misperceptions and misinformation on issues such as vaccines and climate change. I review recent scholarship by Motta et al. (2018) in the context of findings from Pew American Trends Panel surveys suggesting high levels of trust in non-experts on important scientific issues, and discuss potential/new avenues for research on science communication and misperceptions.

The impact of unemployment and economic risk perceptions on attitudes towards anthropogenic climate change. (2017, Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences.)
This study uses public opinion data from 2006 to 2014 to examine the effect of unemployment and partisan identity on attitudes towards anthropogenic climate change. Results show that while Republican partisanship and conservative ideology are strongly associated with lower reported belief in anthropogenic climate change, these attitudes are also shaped by subjective perceptions of economic risk and increased local unemployment rates. I find that exposure to economic risk increases the likelihood of climate change denial among both Democrats and Republicans. These findings help explain trends in environmental public opinion over the past decade, in particular the increase in reported denial or skepticism about climate change after the 2008 economic recession.

Declining Public Concern about Climate Change: Can we Blame the Great Recession? (With Lyle Scruggs. 2012, Global Environmental Change.)
Social surveys suggest that the American public's concern about climate change has declined dramatically since 2008. This has led to a search for explanations for this decline, and great deal of speculation that there has been a fundamental shift in public trust in climate science. We evaluate over thirty years of public opinion data about global warming and the environment, and suggest that the decline in belief about climate change is most likely driven by the economic insecurity caused by the Great Recession. Evidence from European nations further supports an economic explanation for changing public opinion. The pattern is consistent with more than forty years of public opinion about environmental policy. Popular alternative explanations for declining support – partisan politicization, biased media coverage, fluctuations in short-term weather conditions – are unable to explain the suddenness and timing of opinion trends. The implication of these findings is that the “crisis of confidence” in climate change will likely rebound after labor market conditions improve, but not until then. 

Media coverage on this paper at WiredScienceDaily and MSNBC.

Book chapters

Economic Conditions and Public Opinion on Climate Change. (With Lyle Scruggs. Chapter in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Climate Science.)

Globalization and the Right to Health. (With Audrey R. Chapman. Book chapter published in The State of Economic and Social Human Rights: A Global Overview, ed. Alanson Minkler. New York: Cambridge University Press.)

Google Scholar page.