Climate Risk and Preferences over the Size of Government: Evidence from California Wildfires
No 7023, Working Paper from Department of Economics, University of Pittsburgh
How does exposure to risk shape individual preferences for an expanded state? I examine this question in the context of a source of risk prominently featured in the public discourse: climate change. I use variation in California wildfire activity to study how demand for government services evolves following exposure to climate change associated disaster events. I find that Census block groups experiencing a large fire in the two years preceding a biennial Congressional election increase support by 0.7 percentage points for ballot initiatives which expand government spending and taxation. Preference for a more activist state is stronger on the issues rendered most salient by fire exposure, as I document a larger increase of 2.6 percentage points in support for ballot initiatives endorsed by pro-environment interest groups. The effect of fire exposure is stronger in more Republican areas and decays with distance from a fire. The effect does not appear to be driven by shifts in voter registration or turnout, suggesting that the mechanism is indeed changes in individual preferences rather than compositional changes in the electorate.
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