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Drawing a line in the sand: Partisanship and environmental issues in U. S. coastal regions

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Percentage of Democrats and Republicans viewing coastal environmental problems as serious threat.
Credit: Image courtesy of Taylor & Francis

The effects of human activities on marine environments along the United States coasts are easily observed. Less apparent, however, are the perceptions of locally focused marine issues by coastal populations living under a variety of social and environmental influences.

Researchers from the University of New Hampshire conducted a multiregional study of coastal Americans, finding concern levels regarding environmental issues swayed by

(1) local matters such as employment and local society-environment relations,

(2) age, gender, and education, and most importantly,

(3) ideological influences such as political party.

Their results are now available in a free access article from Society and Natural Resources, titled “Environmental Views from the Coast: Public Concern about Local to Global Marine Issues.”

The study incorporated eight surveys including more than 7,000 interviews of U.S. Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf coast residents. Survey data reflected a diversity of concerns tied to local contexts. “The top concern varies from place to place. In one coastal region it might be flooding, in another it might be development, pollution or overfishing,” explains co-author Lawrence C. Hamilton. “Each environment is different, so that’s just what you’d expect.” When controlling for these local “place effects,” however, researchers found “a common pattern: partisanship. For almost every place and issue, from global warming to local beach pollution, Democrats express more concern than Republicans.”

While this political partisanship threatens science-based environmental policies, the study also indicates that the consequences of environmental negligence have comparable power to shape local opinions among affected communities. Beach pollution, seafood contamination, overfishing, sea-level rise and other marine environmental issues will exert more immediate pressure on coastal residents to act, so understanding the local “place effects” will be central to mitigating political biases.


Story Source: Materials provided by Taylor & Francis.Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

Lawrence C. Hamilton, Thomas G. Safford.Environmental Views from the Coast: Public Concern about Local to Global Marine Issues. Society & Natural Resources, 2014; 1 DOI:10.1080/08941920.2014.933926