Research ArticleSOCIAL SCIENCES

Political storms: Emergent partisan skepticism of hurricane risks

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Science Advances  11 Sep 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 37, eabb7906
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abb7906

Abstract

Mistrust of scientific evidence and government-issued guidelines is increasingly correlated with political affiliation. Survey evidence has documented skepticism in a diverse set of issues including climate change, vaccine hesitancy, and, most recently, COVID-19 risks. Less well understood is whether these beliefs alter high-stakes behavior. Combining GPS data for 2.7 million smartphone users in Florida and Texas with 2016 U.S. presidential election precinct-level results, we examine how conservative-media dismissals of hurricane advisories in 2017 influenced evacuation decisions. Likely Trump-voting Florida residents were 10 to 11 percentage points less likely to evacuate Hurricane Irma than Clinton voters (34% versus 45%), a gap not present in prior hurricanes. Results are robust to fine-grain geographic controls, which compare likely Clinton and Trump voters living within 150 m of each other. The rapid surge in media-led suspicion of hurricane forecasts—and the resulting divide in self-protective measures—illustrates a large behavioral consequence of science denialism.

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