Lea Gärtner, Harald Schoen
Experiencing climate change: revisiting the role of local weather in affecting climate change awareness and related policy preferences

Climatic Change, 2021: 167, Heft 3-4, (article no. 31/2021)
ISSN: 0165-0009 (print), 1573-1480 (online)

Over the last few years, climate change has risen to the top of the agenda in many Western democracies, backed by a growing share of voters supporting climate protection policies. To understand how and why these changes came about, we revisit the question whether personal experiences with increasingly unusual local weather conditions affect people’s beliefs about climate change and their related attitudes. We first take a closer look at the theoretical underpinnings and extend the theoretical argument to account for the differential impact of different weather phenomena, as well as the role of prior beliefs and individual reference frames. Applying mixed-effects regressions to a novel dataset combining individual-level multi-wave panel survey data from up to 18,010 German voters collected from 2016 to 2019 with weather data from 514 weather stations, we show that personally experiencing unusual or extreme local weather did not shape people’s awareness of climate change as a political problem or their climate policy preferences in a sustained manner. Even among people who may be considered most likely to exhibit such effects, we did not detect them. Moreover, we demonstrate that the common modeling strategy of combining fixed-effects regression with clustered standard errors leads to severely reduced standard errors and substantively different results. We conclude that it cannot be taken for granted that personally experiencing extreme weather phenomena makes a difference in perceptions of climate change and related policy preferences.