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Actual Experience, Partisan Distortion and Recall of Wildfire Events

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Presentation given at the 2020 American Political Science Association Annual Meeting
September 11, 2020
Anne Maureen Driscoll


We provide an individual-level account of how people recall wildfire experiences and how it affects their policy views. We contend that recall of actual climatic events consists of two components: fact and partisan distortion. When asked about their experience with wildfire, Republicans are less likely than Democrats to recall experiencing smoke and wildfires. The difference is partly attributable to partisan distortion that is rooted in differential beliefs about global climate change. Proximity to wildfires and exposure to dense wildfire smoke diminish partisan distortions in recalling personal experiences with wildfires. Proximity to wildfires also increases Republican support for wildfire adaptive policies that involve public funding, a core issue that typically divides Democrats and Republicans. As global climate change induces more frequent and intense climatic events, the frequency of objectively personal experiences with extreme weather related events like wildfires may help to reduce partisan gaps over climate policy.