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Baptism by Wildfire? Wildfire Experiences and Public Support for Wildfire Adaptation Policies

June 2021
American Politics Research
Publication Documents

In recent years, wildfires have ravaged the landscape in many Western American states, especially California. But will these horrific wildfire experiences increase public support for wildfire adaptation measures? We conducted an individual-level survey in California in 2019. Combining survey data with geocoded information about a respondent’s proximity to wildfire events and exposure to wildfire smoke, we assess whether respondents’ experiences increased support for several wildfire adaptation policies. We also control for party affiliation. We find that Californians generally oppose restrictive resilience policies and view the decision to take adaptive steps as a matter of personal choice. Republicans are generally more opposed than Democrats to spending public funds to incentivize resilience measures, but proximity to wildfires lessens their opposition to using public funds to encourage homeowners to upgrade their properties for increased protection from wildfires and encourage relocation to safer places. Although exposure to wildfire smoke is extensive and harmful to health, we found that its main impact on policy preferences was statistically insignificant.