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W&L’s Zhang Publishes Paper in The Journal of Politics Zhang's paper is titled, "Electoral Backlash or Positive Reinforcement? Wind Power and Congressional Elections in the United States."

zhang-150x225 W&L's Zhang Publishes Paper in The Journal of PoliticsAssistant Professor of Economics Alice Zhang

Alice Zhang, assistant professor of economics at Washington and Lee University, recently published a paper titled “Electoral Backlash or Positive Reinforcement? Wind Power and Congressional Elections in the United States” in the Journal of Politics. The paper was co-authored by Dr. Johannes Urpelainen of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

“Anthropogenic climate change is arguably one of the biggest threats confronting humanity. From raging wildfires in the West to devastating hurricanes in the East, the effects are already felt across the United States,” said Zhang.

“Several of my current projects focus on quantifying the impacts of a warming world, identifying opportunities and obstacles for emission reduction, and proposing strategies for adapting to a changing climate. For many people, the threat of a changing climate is a back-burner issue that lacks direct personal relevance and urgency. At the same time, perceived local costs could create powerful interest groups and coalitions through ‘not-in-my-back-yard’ (NIMBY) activism.”

In “Electoral Backlash or Positive Reinforcement? Wind Power and Congressional Elections in the United States,” Urpelainen and Zhang study the effect of wind turbine construction on United States congressional elections. Wind farms create local costs, and elections are the most important means for citizens to express their views.

“How important are the forces of NIMBY, and are incumbents punished for the local dis-amenities created by wind turbines?” asks Zhang.

“We find that between 2003 and 2012, every 100 megawatts of wind power capacity increased the Democratic vote share in U.S. House elections by 2-3 percentage points. This electoral shift, in turn, has contributed to a pro-environmental shift in congressional roll-call voting on the environment. To understand the mechanisms through which politicians may have claimed credit or assigned blame for wind power, we use structural topic modeling, a machine learning technique, to conduct text analysis on the universe of press releases on wind energy and the environment published by politicians. We find a clear partisan divide on the merits of wind energy based on topic content and prevalence.”

Zhang is an environmental economist passionate about using interdisciplinary research to tackle environmental and social justice issues. Her work seeks to improve our understanding of how large-scale natural and social processes, such as anthropogenic climate change, natural disasters, and forced migration affect economic development and human welfare. She is especially interested in using cutting-edge data and economic models to address the distributional implications of government policies and provide practical solutions for the challenges of sustainability.

The Journal of Politics, published for the Southern Political Science Association, is a general-interest journal of political science and the oldest regional political science journal in the United States. According to The University of Chicago Press’s website, “The scholarship published in The Journal of Politics is theoretically innovative and methodologically diverse, and comprises a blend of the various intellectual approaches that make up the discipline.”

You can now access Zhang’s paper online.

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