Ready When the Big One Comes? Natural Disasters and Mass Support for Preparedness Investment

WashU affiliated authors: Michael Bechtel (Dept. of Political Science)

Abstract: Societies can address collective threats such as natural disasters or pandemics by investing in preparedness (ex ante) or by offering compensation after an adverse event has occurred (ex post). What explains which of these options voters prefer? We study how personal exposure and policy knowledge affect mass support for long-term disaster preparedness, a type of long-term investment meant to cope with an increasingly destructive and frequent class of events. We first assess whether support for preparedness reflects personal affectedness and find that neither subjective nor geo-coded measures of disaster exposure predict policy preferences. Second, we explore whether this finding can be explained by misperceptions about the features of the available policy options. We find that revealing the damage reductions associated with preparedness systematically reduces opposition to long-term investment. These results suggest that opposition to preparing for collective threats may depend more on informational deficiencies than on personal experience with realized risks.