Patrick J. Egan
Associated Associate Professor of Public Service, NYU Wagner; Associate Professor of Politics and Public Policy, NYU Wilf Family Department of Politics
Patrick J. Egan specializes in public opinion, political institutions and their relationship in American politics. He is author of Partisan Priorities: How Issue Ownership Drives and Distorts American Politics (Cambridge, 2013) and co-editor of Public Opinion and Constitutional Controversy (Oxford, 2008). In 2012, he received the NYU Golden Dozen Award in recognition for his outstanding contribution to learning in the classroom. Before entering academia, he served as an Assistant Deputy Mayor of Policy and Planning in the office of Philadelphia Mayor Edward Rendell. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from UC Berkeley and a master’s degree in public affairs from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School.
A review of research findings and polling data about Americans’ attitudes on climate change reveals a lack of meaningful long-term change in mass opinion. Instead, the structure of Americans’ attitudes toward belief in climate change’s existence, concern about its consequences, and demand for policy response is similar to that regarding many other issues in contemporary US politics: stability in aggregate opinion that masks partisan and ideological polarization enhanced by communications from elites. But features of the climate change problem elicit some distinctive determinants of opinion, including individuals’ trust in science, risk processing, and personal experience. Although our review of the literature and data leaves us skeptical that majority opinion will spur elected officials anytime soon to undertake the costly solutions necessary to tackle this problem comprehensively at the national level, we identify several avenues by which attitudes might promote less substantial but nevertheless consequential policy action.
As climate change unfolds, weather systems in the United States have been shifting in patterns that vary across regions and seasons. Climate science research typically assesses these changes by examining individual weather indicators, such as temperature or precipitation, in isolation, and averaging their values across the spatial surface. As a result, little is known about population exposure to changes in weather and how people experience and evaluate these changes considered together. Here we show that in the United States from 1974 to 2013, the weather conditions experienced by the vast majority of the population improved. Using previous research on how weather affects local population growth to develop an index of people’s weather preferences, we find that 80% of Americans live in counties that are experiencing more pleasant weather than they did four decades ago. Virtually all Americans are now experiencing the much milder winters that they typically prefer, and these mild winters have not been offset by markedly more uncomfortable summers or other negative changes. Climate change models predict that this trend is temporary, however, because US summers will eventually warm more than winters. Under a scenario in which greenhouse gas emissions proceed at an unabated rate (Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5), we estimate that 88% of the US public will experience weather at the end of the century that is less preferable than weather in the recent past. Our results have implications for the public’s understanding of the climate change problem, which is shaped in part by experiences with local weather. Whereas weather patterns in recent decades have served as a poor source of motivation for Americans to demand a policy response to climate change, public concern may rise once people’s everyday experiences of climate change effects start to become less pleasant.
When a public problem is perceived to be poorly addressed by current policy, it is often the case that credible alternative policies are proposed to both the status quo’s left and right. Specially designed national surveys show that in circumstances like these, many Americans’ preferences are not single-peaked on the standard left-right dimension. Rather, they simply want the government to ‘‘do something’’ about the problem and therefore prefer both liberal and conservative policies to the moderate status quo. This produces individual and collective preferences that are double-peaked with respect to the left-right dimension. Double-peakedness is less prevalent on issues where no consensus exists regarding policy goals, and it increases when exogenous events raise the public’s concern about the seriousness of a policy problem.
Americans are more likely to believe in global warming when it's hot outside. A study now provides insights on why this reasoning process is not easily changed.
Americans consistently name Republicans as the party better at handling issues like national security and crime, while they trust Democrats on issues like education and the environment – a phenomenon called “issue ownership.” Partisan Priorities investigates the origins of issue ownership, showing that in fact the parties deliver neither superior performance nor popular policies on the issues they “own.” Rather, Patrick J. Egan finds that Republicans and Democrats simply prioritize their owned issues with lawmaking and government spending when they are in power. Since the parties tend to be particularly ideologically rigid on the issues they own, politicians actually tend to ignore citizens' preferences when crafting policy on these issues. Thus, issue ownership distorts the relationship between citizens' preferences and public policies.