When Does Self-Interest Motivate Political Engagement? The Case of Climate Change

19 Pages Posted: 13 Mar 2017

See all articles by Adam Levine

Adam Levine

Cornell University

Reuben Kline

Stony Brook University

Date Written: March 12, 2017


Past work finds that material self-interest often motivates increased issue engagement. In this paper we identify an important condition under which the opposite can occur. When people see an issue as threatening to harm material well-being, and they are already facing related resource constraints in their own lives, then they become more concerned about the issue yet less willing to spend scarce resources on issue activism. We demonstrate this point by showing that, among people facing recent health hardships, framing climate change in terms of how it will harm health (a key resource for political participation) is persuasive yet demobilizing. These results advance our theoretical understanding of political participation by showing how people's subjective perceptions of their resources are context dependent. They also show how the motivational influence of material self-interest can have divergent effects on public opinion versus political participation.

Suggested Citation

Levine, Adam and Kline, Reuben, When Does Self-Interest Motivate Political Engagement? The Case of Climate Change (March 12, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2931842 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2931842

Adam Levine (Contact Author)

Cornell University ( email )

Ithaca, NY 14853
United States

Reuben Kline

Stony Brook University ( email )

Department of Political Science
Center for Behavioral Political Economy
Stony Brook, NY 11794-4392

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