UC Davis Agricultural and Resource Economics

Judd Boomhower, University of California, San Diego

Does the Environment Matter at the Ballot Box? Persuasive Effects of a New Externality from Fracking

Date and Location

Wednesday, October 23, 2019, 3:40 PM - 5:00 PM
ARE Library Conference Room, 4101 Social Sciences and Humanities

Abstract

In principle, the regulation of externalities in a democracy is subject to electoral discipline. In practice, there is limited evidence on whether voters hold politicians accountable for the perceived quality of environmental regulation. This study examines this question through the lens of energy regulation in the U.S. state of Oklahoma. Oklahoma selects its oil and gas regulators via popular ballot, creating an opportunity to observe voter decisions about energy and environmental policy unbundled from other issues. The recent oil and gas boom has created a new and unusually salient externality in Oklahoma: earthquakes caused by disposal of drilling waste. I document four facts about voters' and candidates' responses to this new externality. First, text mining of election news coverage shows that opposition candidates elevated earthquakes as a central campaign issue. Second, voters in precincts with the strongest shaking were more attentive to the energy regulator race, as measured by differences in ballot rolloff. Effects are largest in the least-Republican precincts, suggesting that the effect may depend on party affiliation. Third, the persuasive effect of earthquake exposure on precinct-level outcomes appears to have been very small; instead, vote shares for the oil and gas regulator continue to be largely explained by party affiliation. Finally, while cleanly measuring the effect of induced seismicity on turnout is challenging, the data are consistent with induced seismicity possibly increasing turnout. Overall, the results suggest that the electoral consequences of environmental externalities may manifest mostly as changes in voter mobilization, as opposed to persuasion.

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