Salil D. Benegal‎ > ‎research‎ > ‎

American Exceptionalism or Economic Erosion: What Explains Changing Attitudes to Global Warming?

Salil Benegal and Lyle Scruggs

Working paper presented at the 2012 Annual Meeeting of the Midwest Political Science Association. 
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Declining public support for the existence and severity of climate change in the United States is well documented. Some studies have considered the US as an exceptional case where public concern is lower than in much of Western Europe, and affected by unique factors such as the politicization of climate change as a partisan wedge issue. Alternative explanations for this trend include conservative ideology in the US, allegations discrediting climate scientists for withholding evidence, short-term weather patterns and economic conditions. We examine public opinion trends across 29 European countries using survey data from the Eurobaromer that reflect opinions on climate change before, during and after the economic recession of 2008.  The findings reinforce the hypothesis that national economic conditions may best account for declines in public concern over the environment, with robust trends throughout Europe that show strong associations between increases in unemployment within states and proportional declines in concern over climate change. Results reflect a corresponding tendency to discount the value of information, with survey respondents being more likely to feel that information about the threats of climate change has been exaggerated as economic conditions deteriorate.

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