Climate Policy in Hard Times: Are the Pessimists Right?

Posted: 10 Jul 2014 Last revised: 17 Oct 2019

Date Written: June 2015


Conventional wisdom holds that the state of the economy has a strong impact on citizens' appetite for environmental policies, including climate policy. Assuming median voter preferences prevail, periods of economic prosperity are likely to be conducive, and economic downturns are likely to be detrimental to ambitious climate policy. Using original surveys in the United States and Germany, we engage in a critical re-assessment of this claim. The results show that, for the most part, individuals' perceptions of their own economic situations have no significant effect on their policy support. Negative perceptions of the national economic outlook reduce support for climate policy in the US, but not in Germany. The magnitude of this national economy effect in the US is small, however. On the other hand, individuals' climate risk perceptions consistently have a statistically significant and large effect across various model specifications, and interestingly, this pattern holds for the US, whose government is among the less ambitious in global climate policy, as well as Germany, which is among the frontrunners. Our study indicates that the state of the economy may not trump climate risk considerations as much as conventional wisdom claims.

Keywords: climate policy, survey experiment, economic conditions, cliamte risks

Suggested Citation

Kachi, Aya and Bernauer, Thomas and Gampfer, Robert, Climate Policy in Hard Times: Are the Pessimists Right? (June 2015). Ecological Economics, Vol. 114, 2015. Available at SSRN: or

Aya Kachi (Contact Author)

University of Basel ( email )

Peter Merian-Weg 6
Basel, 4052

Thomas Bernauer

ETH Zurich ( email )

Center for Comparative and International Studies
Building IFW, office 45.1, Haldeneggsteig 4
Zurich 8092, 8092
+41 44 632 6466 (Phone)
+41 44 632 1289 (Fax)


Robert Gampfer

ETH Zürich ( email )

Rämistrasse 101
Zürich, 8092

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