The public, politics, and pollution : real-world outcomes of policy responsiveness

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2021-06-10

Authors

Buchanan, Ross Ardley

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Abstract

This dissertation advances a theory that brings real-world outcomes into our current understanding of the public opinion--policy responsiveness dynamic in both democratic and nondemocratic settings. The analysis examines a vital public good---air pollution remediation in American and Chinese localities---and estimates a dynamic model of relationships among three key variables: public opinion, policy, and air pollution outcomes. It focuses on both public opinion and air pollution outcomes as dependent variables. In both the United States and China, I find that local public opinion's impact on local air pollution is substantively meaningful, which suggests the additional policy effort prompted by public opinion is sufficient to yield tangible real-world outcomes in both cases. I also find that US public opinion reacts to changes in both policy and local pollution, and Chinese public opinion reacts to local pollution while ignoring available information about policy. I argue throughout the dissertation that the public informs its opinions with whatever credible information is readily at hand. In Chapter 4, I argue that China's public ignores the information available through official channels because the public correctly judges it to be objectively unreliable. I theorize that citizens can accurately assess information trustworthiness in issue domains that are visible in daily life; in such domains, citizens can evaluate a body of information's overall reliability based on how well it accords with their direct observations of the world around them.

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