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Political Affiliation Affects Adaptation to Climate Risks: Evidence from New York City

September 2016

W.J. Wouter Botzen,  Erwann Michel-Kerjan, Howard Kunreuther, Hans de Moel, Jeroen C. J. H. Aerts


The authors focus on political affiliation and how it affects flood risk protection, expectations of federal aid, and actions taken to adapt to such events. They provide empirical data on how views on climate change differ depending on political affiliation. Upon surveying over 1,000 residents of New York City (NYC) after Superstorm Sandy, the authors discovered a difference in opinion as it pertains to climate change and the threat of coastal flooding. Republicans’ perception of the threat of flooding was far below that of Democrats. Their research shows that Democrats were more likely to purchase flood insurance and are more likely to expect federal aid in the event of flooding. The study also shows that Democrats believed there was more than a1-in-100 chance of flooding compared to Republicans view that there was only a 1-in-100 chance of flooding. When asked about the future risk of flooding 71% Democrats believed that the risk of flooding would go up as a result of climate change compared to only 47% of Republicans. The authors also studied the percentage of residents in NYC that purchased flood insurance after Superstorm Sandy, and found that a greater number of Democrats purchased flood insurance compared to Republicans, confirming that political affiliation does indeed influence the perception of flood risks.

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Policy Implications

This study shows the divide in political ideology when it comes to the risk of climate change. Democrats favor regulations that would combat the effects of climate change while Republicans believe that a super-storm such as Sandy is a rare occurrence that is not attributed to a change in our climate. It shows that Republicans are skeptical of climate change and that they are still reluctant to impose regulations. An option to bridge the divide would be to provide economic incentives to residents who flood proof their homes beyond minimum standards. Bolstering NYC building codes would be an example of how cities can prepare for future floods and limit potential damage. The authors believe that their findings are likely to have broader relevance when it comes to national climate change policy.

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