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UNF researchers find experiences with flooding affect climate change attitudes among Florida voters

Three University of North Florida faculty researchers recently completed an interdisciplinary project to study public opinion on climate change and assess the impact of personal experiences on political behavior and attitudes. This research was funded by the UNF Environmental Center’s Seed Grant program.

UNF political science and public administration faculty Dr. Josh Gellers and Dr. Enrijeta Shino teamed up with psychology faculty Dr. Heather Barnes Truelove to study how personal experiences affect support for environmental policies, such as taxes or regulations.

The two-week study was conducted via email in December 2020 and invited registered voters in Florida to respond to an online survey. Given Florida’s exposure to climate change-related events, such as sea level rise and increasing hurricane intensity, the state provided an ideal testing ground for assessing how personal experiences with these occurrences could shape attitudes and subsequent policy preferences.

Research has shown that attitudes towards the environment are affected by many aspects of a person’s identity, including age, education, morals, political ideology, religious beliefs, sex, and values. Further, a person’s worldviews and risk perceptions influence his/her level of support for environmental policy.


Some notable findings of the UNF study include:

  • Flooding appears to have stronger effects on climate change attitudes than hurricanes.
  • The more hurricanes/flooding events people experience, the more “alarmed” they seem to be about climate change.
  • Despite the previous two findings, there is a weak relationship between personal experiences with hurricanes/flooding events and climate change attributions. People have experienced environmental hazards and believe climate change is a serious issue, however they don’t think the two are connected in their personal experience.

The UNF Environmental Center’s Seed Grant program presents competitive, merit-based Seed Grant awards annually to UNF faculty members to stimulate and “seed” the creation of environmentally related research and inspire effective collaboration between faculty and students in diverse disciplines. The program is supported by an endowment provided by the River Branch Foundation. A recent gift from the Vulcan Materials Company Foundation has allowed the Environmental Center to expand the Seed Grant program and offer two additional grants focused on water issues in Northeast Florida.

Watch the researchers present.