Effects of local drought condition on public opinions about water supply and future climate change

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Evans, Jason M., Calabria, Jon, Borisova, Tatiana, Boellstorf, Diane E., Sochacka, Nicki, Smolen, Michael D., Mahler, Robert L., and Risse, L. Mark
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A growing body of research indicates that opinions about long-term climate change and other natural resource issues can be significantly affected by current weather conditions (e.g., outside air temperature) and other highly contingent environmental cues. Although increased severity and frequency of droughts is regarded as a likely consequence of anthropogenic climate change, little previous research has attempted to relate the experience of drought with public attitudes about water supply or water-related climate change issues. For this study, a large set (n = 3,163) of public survey data collected across nine states of the southern United States was spatio-temporally linked with records of short-term (~12 weeks) and long-term (~5 years) drought condition at the level of each respondent’s zip code. Multivariate ordinal logistic regression models that included numerous other independent variables (environmental ideology, age, gender, education, community size, residency duration, and local annual precipitation) indicated highly significant interactions with long-term drought condition, but showed no significant effect from short-term drought condition. Conversely, attitudes about water-related climate change showed highly significant interactions with short-term drought, with weaker to no effects from long-term drought. While the finding of significant effects from short-term drought condition on opinions about future drought is broadly consistent with previous public opinion research on climate change, the finding of water supply attitudes being more responsive to longer term drought condition is, to our knowledge, a novel result. This study more generally demonstrates the methodological feasibility and applied importance of accounting for local drought condition when public opinion information is used to evaluate outreach programs for water conservation and climate change.


Evans, J. M., J. Calabria, T. Borisova, D. E. Boellstorf, N. Sochacka, M. D. Smolen, R. L. Mahler, and L. M. Risse. 2015. Effects of local drought condition on public opinions about water supply and future climate change. Climatic Change:1–15. doi:10.1007/s10584-015-1425-z