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Electoral Backlash against Climate Policy: A Natural Experiment on Retrospective Voting and Local Resistance to Public Policy

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Retrospective voting studies typically examine policies where the public has common interests. By contrast, climate policy has broad public support but concentrated opposition in communities where costs are imposed. This spatial distribution of weak supporters and strong local opponents mirrors opposition to other policies with diffuse public benefits and concentrated local costs. I use a natural experiment to investigate whether citizens living in proximity to wind energy projects retrospectively punished an incumbent government because of its climate policy. Using both fixed effects and instrumental variable estimators, I identify electoral losses for the incumbent party ranging from 4 to 10%, with the effect persisting 3 km from wind turbines. There is also evidence that voters are informed, only punishing the government responsible for the policy. I conclude that the spatial distribution of citizens' policy preferences can affect democratic accountability through ‘spatially distorted signalling’, which can exacerbate political barriers to addressing climate change.

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