pplz who livin' the southern u.s. are used to evacuating when severe hurricanes are headed their way. yet inna case of 2017’s hurricane irma—which was the costliest tropical cyclone ever to hit florida and caused $50 billion in damages inna u.s.—the choice to cutout or remain turned into a political storm. according to a study published on sep 11 in sci advances, florida residents who probably voted for hillary clinton inna 2016 presidential election were up to 11 %age points + likely to flee than those who probably voted for donald trump. the authors found that “hurricane skepticism” spread by conservative commentators may ‘ve been to blame.
“it used to be that everyone ‘d agree that something like hurricanes are very dangerous phenomena,” says elisa long, an associate professor of decisions, operations and tek management atta university of california, los angeles, who led the study. “it’s really concerning that something that ‘d not be ptisan has become ptisan, espeshly when that skepticism is manifesting in behavior that mite actually harm some1.”
past research supported a scenario that is readily apparent on social media and inna news: americans view issues s'as climate change, vaccines, gun control and covid-19 risks ≠ly according to their political affiliation. but'a evidence was not firmly grounded. most studies investigating how ptisanship shapes beliefs were based on surveys prone to introducing bias rather than on confirmation of just how deeply pplz internalize self-reprted political stances. the act of filling out a survey itself has pitfalls. a 2015 paper found that simply paying pplz to provide the correct answers diminished the gap tween ptisan responses to factual ?s, suggesting, the authors wrote, “that the apparent gulf in factual beliefs … maybe + illusory than real.”
whether ptisan beliefs influence actual behavior, espeshly when the stakes are high, is also something surveys do not adequately capture. to test this ?, long and her colleagues turned to hurricane evacuation rates.
3 major hurricanes occurred inna u.s. 2017: harvey, irma and maria. inna weeks tween harvey and irma, rush limbaugh—the most pop radio host inna u.s., whose conservative talk show draws 15.5 million weekly listeners—said that the government and media were exaggerating irma’s severity to advance a climate change agenda. “these storms, once they actually hit, are never as strong as they’re reprted,” he told listeners. this message was amplified by other conservative pundits, s'as ann coulter, and by several mainstream media outlets.
to test how much w8 was given to these comments, long and her colleagues used zone data down to the lvl of neighborhood blocks from + than 2.7 million florida and texas residents’ smartphones. the information alloed them to estimate where individuals live based onna phones’ zone at nite. the researchers determined some1 evacuated when a cell phone moved away from its typical nitetime zone at least 24 hrs b4 a storm’s landfall. they calcul8d evacuation rates for hurricanes harvey and irma in in texas and florida, respectively, swell as for hurricane matthew, which hit florida in 2016.
the researchers nxt overlaid the evacuation data on precinct-lvl voting results, which gave them a proxy for how phone owners voted in 2016. doin’ so alloed them to compare residents who lived as close as 150 mts from one another in neighboring republican and democratic precincts.
they also used block-lvl census data to control for possible confounding variables that mite influence whether some1 chose to evacuate. those data included household income, education, race, ethnicity and employment rates, swell as geographical information s'as the distance to the coast and elevation.
the findings were striking: an estimated 45 % of likely clinton voters evacuated prior to hurricane irma, while just 34 % of trump voters did so. tellingly, however, these differences did not emerge during hurricane harvey, ≤ a mnth prior, or hurricane matthew—which did not receive the same lvl of haranguing from limbaugh or coulter.
while the findings do not definitively prove that limbaugh’s promotion of hurricane skepticism caused republicans to stay put, the differences uncovered inna study “can’t be explained by any other correlation, like democrats living near the coast,” long says. “when you get to this lvl of spatial precision, the storm ‘dn’t possibly hit democratic zones + than republican ones.”
“this new paper is really significant for showing that this ptisan bias affects pplz’s real, consequential behaviors, as measured using data on their actual behavior, not surveys,” says david broockman, a political sci atta university of california, berkeley, who was not involved inna work. cause of the researchers’ careful study design, he says, “it becomes very convincing that the differences are due to wha’ limbaugh said and not just a general pattern bout wha’ kind of person evacuates.”
the finding that “ptisan elites” s'as limbaugh can influence their folloers’ decisions ‘d be encouraging if their persuasiveness was used for promoting good behavior, broockman says. but it’s “a disconcerting conclusion to the extent that elites encourage their ptisan team to engage in irresponsible or socially destructive behavior,” he adds.
original content at: rss.sciam.com…
authors: rachel nuwer