Three essays on the state, public opinion, and environmental politics in Latin America



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This dissertation explores how Brazil and Mexico respond to environmental challenges, and how these responses can influence the political behavior of citizens. Three essays delve into specific aspects of this relationship. The first essay investigates the shifts in support for state-led environmental protection in the Brazilian Amazon. While Brazil historically succeeded in building such capacity, recent environmental state retrenchment remains inadequately explained. Drawing on data from Brazil's national congress, 300,000 fines for environmental infractions at the district level, and interviews with over 60 public officials and experts, I argue that partisan dynamics and electoral vulnerability jointly shape state-led environmental protection levels. Left-wing politicians consolidate capacity with low electoral vulnerability, whereas conservative counterparts erode it. Vulnerable centrist and right-wing governments tend to maintain capacity, while vulnerable left-wing governments lead to low support due to business elites' counter-mobilization. My findings highlight the role subnational politicians play in eroding capacity from the bottom-up, as well as how business elite behavior is not strictly-rational. Partisan-motivated reasoning helps explain puzzling patterns of mobilization against the Left and subsequently lower support for the state to achieve environmental protections. The second essay proposes and tests a theory on how extreme weather events and subnational government responses affect public trust in politics and democracy. My argument states that local government responses to extreme weather tend to exacerbate inequalities. The effects lead to disaffection toward the electoral system rather than individual politicians. Analyzing weather events and surveys of public opinion in Brazil and Mexico from 2006 to 2019, I find that drought lowers trust in elections. I validate the role of politicized resource distribution in explaining this relationship using a novel measure of demand for water at the municipal level. Moreover, in areas with high levels of clientelism, the individualistic exchange of goods and services for political support, trust in municipal governments becomes polarized when extreme drought occurs. These findings underscore the importance of fairness perceptions in disaster response, influencing political trust and aspects of democracy. My findings contribute to our understanding of how local governments manage environmental and societal interactions, and suggest how climate change may exacerbate declining support for democracy. The third essay explores foreign influence on Brazilian citizens' opinions regarding environmental protection through a pre-registered survey experiment (n = 1003). This research seeks to understand how influence from abroad affects public opinion of climate policies, which in turn helps explain why state capacity on the environment may change over time. I find limited overall effects of prompts about foreign aid and shame for environmental issues, except shame significantly decreases support for a carbon tax. Aid generally increases support among environmentally conscious citizens, but against expectations, it decreases support for climate policies among those who don't prioritize the environment while shame sometimes increases support. Overall, foreign pressures land differently for distinct citizens based on their environmental priorities. Foreign actors face the risk of polarizing support for greater policy commitments to the climate and environment.



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