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The impact of unemployment and economic risk perceptions on attitudes towards anthropogenic climate change


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.

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  1. 5.69% of respondents provided a response of “Don’t know” or “No response” to the first question. These respondents were included with those who responded “No” (1), consistent with variable coding in Egan and Mullin (2012) as they did not indicate agreement with the scientific consensus for climate change. 9.52% of respondents provided a similar DK/NR response to the second question and were again coded alongside respondents (2) who did not indicate agreement with the scientific consensus on climate change.

  2. The departure from mean temperature compares the temperature for each state in a particular month to that state’s temperature in the same months over a base period of 1950–1980. Data were obtained using NOAA’s Climate at a Glance database (NOAA 2017).

  3. As the data is ordinal in nature, ordinal logistic regression was also used to estimate these parameters. However, Brant post-estimation tests confirm violation of the parallel regression assumption, and therefore ordinal logistic regression cannot be used. The variable is thus treated as multinomial/categorical instead of ordinal.


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I thank Thomas Hayes, Paul Herrnson, Lyle Scruggs, Matthew Singer, Gabriela Tafoya, Todd Vachon, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier drafts.

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Correspondence to Salil D. Benegal.

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Benegal, S.D. The impact of unemployment and economic risk perceptions on attitudes towards anthropogenic climate change. J Environ Stud Sci 8, 300–311 (2018).

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  • Climate change
  • Polarization
  • Public opinion
  • Unemployment