American Political Science Association Pre-Print: “Explaining Perceptions of Climate Change in the US.”

Chiara Binelli University of Milano-Bicocca
Matthew Loveless University of Bologna
Brian Schaffner Tufts University
Abstract: Despite extensive scientific evidence, a significant proportion of the US population does not believe that climate change is a serious problem and immediate action is necessary. We merge individual-level data on climate change perceptions and the main determinants previously identified by the literature with county-level data on an exogenous measure of local climate change. Doing so allows us, for the first time, to test whether individuals’ actual experience with long-trend changes in their local climate can override the power of partisanship that appears to have captured this opinion process. We find that partisanship and political ideology have the strongest effect on climate change perceptions, more so than long-run changes in local climate. We then run a randomized online experiment to test whether partisanship also drives the willingness to take action to combat climate change and individual environmental-friendly choices as much as it drives perceptions.