Adaptation to climate risks: Political affiliation matters

A new study reveals that in the United States those who affiliate with the Democratic Party have different views than those who vote Republican on the following issues: the likelihood of floods occurring, adopting protection measures, and expectations of disaster relief from the government.

08/05/2016 | 9:29 AM

The study was jointly conducted by the Institute for Environmental Studies at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Utrecht University School of Economics, and the Center for Risk Management and Decision Processes at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, USA.

The research, published in Climatic Change, focused on the flood risk in New York City. Data was collected among homeowners with ground level property in flood-prone areas of the city. Respondents' political affiliation was determined by what political party they voted for in the November 2012 presidential election.

Democrats versus Republicans

The researchers found that Democrats’ perception of their probability of experiencing flood damage is significantly higher than Republicans’. They are also more likely to expect climate change to increase the flood risk they face in the future, and they are also more likely to invest in individual flood protection measures.

Furthermore, less than half of Democrats and a third of Republicans trust the government to address the flood risk posed in their area of residence. Fifty percent more Democrats than Republicans in the study expect to receive federal disaster relief after a major flood. Interestingly, given the above, the researchers find no difference in flood insurance adoption.

Important implications for flood risk management

‘We knew Republicans and Democrats in the United States often perceive the risk of climate change differently. We now know they prepare for climate disasters differently, too. This finding has important implications’, report Wouter Botzen and Erwann Michel-Kerjan, who co-led the study.

The authors suggest that flood risk awareness campaigns and policies should be aimed at encouraging people to adopt preparedness and risk reduction measures and to purchase adequate insurance coverage, irrespective of their political ideology. Flood risk in New York City is too large to be ignored as was shown by the $50 billion costs of Hurricane Sandy in 2012.