Using the three-pillar model of sustainability to understand lay reactions to climate policy: A multilevel approach

Nathaniel Geiger, Janet K. Swim, Lizbeth Benson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Public support for climate policy is necessary to enact the large-scale changes needed to mitigate climate change. We use the three-pillar model of sustainability as a conceptual framework to examine how individuals evaluate climate policies and how these evaluations predict policy support. We consider individuals’ evaluations of 1) environmental impacts (i.e., perceived policy effectiveness), 2) economic impacts, and 3) social impacts of policies. We use multilevel modeling to disentangle variance in policy support attributable to between-person differences (i.e., aggregated policy support) and within-person variations across policies. First, we fit a multilevel factor model to our dataset (Nobs = 1056) to identify whether the factor structure of the three-pillar model at both the between-person and within-person levels of analysis. The three-pillar model emerged at the within-person level. In contrast, items instead loaded onto two factors at the between-person level: benefits and harms. Thus, we created within- and between-person constructs matching these factors. Results from multilevel regressions suggest that a) individuals who anticipate more benefits and fewer harms of climate policies (as a set) also tend to report greater aggregated support for climate change policies, and b) anticipating environmental benefits, economic impacts and social impacts to be above average for a certain policy (relative to other policies) predicts greater support for that policy. Our work suggests the relevance of differentiating between who is most likely to support climate policies in general (i.e., between-person differences) as well as policy-specific evaluations associated with support for some policies over others (i.e. within-person variation in support).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)132-141
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
StatePublished - Dec 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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