Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter September 21, 2020

Can Mayors Lead on Climate Change? Evidence from Six Years of Surveys

  • Katherine Levine Einstein EMAIL logo , David M. Glick and Maxwell Palmer
From the journal The Forum


In the face of federal government intransigence, climate activists are looking to the local leaders to aggressively address climate change. While local politicians are limited in many respects, their control over land use and transportation policy provides them with powerful tools to reduce Americans’ reliance on cars–thereby decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. Using six years of novel elite survey data, we find that mayors are strongly committed to addressing climate change and reducing their communities’ reliance on cars. They are also supportive of some specific policies–including the construction of dense, multifamily housing and bicycle lanes–that would decrease greenhouse gas emissions. Other policy views, though, reveal that mayors do not consistently endorse evidence-based transportation policy practices that would make walking and cycling safe and attractive modes of transit. Insufficient knowledge, a lack of funding, partisan polarization, and public opposition all pose potent obstacles to mayors taking the lead on climate change.

Corresponding author: Katherine Levine Einstein, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Boston University, Boston, USA, E-mail:


Anzia, S. F. 2014. Timing and Turnout: How Off-Cycle Elections Favor Organized Groups. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.10.7208/chicago/9780226086958.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Barro, J. Here’s What Mayors and Governors should Really do to Support the Paris Climate Agreement: Business Insider, June 2, 2017, Accessed on March 4, 2019.Search in Google Scholar

Beck, B., D. Chong, J. Olivier, M. Perkins, A. Tsay, A. Rushford, L. Li, P. Cameron, R. Fry, M. Johnson. 2019. How Much Space do Drivers Provide When Passing Cyclists? Understanding the Impact of Motor Vehicle and Infrastructure Characteristics on Passing Distance: Accident Analysis & Prevention.10.1016/j.aap.2019.03.007Search in Google Scholar

Broockman, D., and C. Skovron. 2018. “Bias in Perceptions of Public Opinion Among Political Elites.” American Political Science Review. 112 (3): 542–63, in Google Scholar

De Benedictis-Kessner, J., and C. Warshaw. 2016. “Mayoral Partisanship and Municipal Fiscal Policy.” Journal of Politics. 78 (4): 1124–38, in Google Scholar

Einstein, K. L., and D. M. Glick. 2018. “Mayors, Partisanship, and Redistribution: Evidence Directly from U.S. Mayors.” Urban Affairs Review. 54 (1): 74–106, in Google Scholar

Einstein, K. L., L. Godinez Puig, and S. Piston. 2020. “The Pictures in Their Heads: How U.S. Mayors Thinking about Racial Inequality.” Urban Affairs Review. Published online. in Google Scholar

Einstein, K. L., D. M. Glick, and M. Palmer. 2019. Neighborhood Defenders: Participatory Politics and America’s Housing Crisis. New York: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/9781108769495Search in Google Scholar

Environmental Protection Agency. 2018. Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Accessed on February 25, 2020.Search in Google Scholar

Florida, R. 2018. Parking has eaten American cities: CityLab. Accessed on February 26, 2020.Search in Google Scholar

Flynn, D. J., B. Nyhan, and J. Reifler. 2017. “The Nature and Origins of Misperceptions: Understanding False and Unsupported Beliefs about Politics.” Political Psychology. 38 (S1): 127–50, in Google Scholar

Fountain, H. 2019. Climate Change is Accelerating, Bring World ‘Dangerously Close’ to Irreversible Change: New York Times. Accessed on February 25, 2020.Search in Google Scholar

Glaeser, E. 2011. Triumph of the City. New York: Penguin.Search in Google Scholar

Groppe, M. 2017. Mayors Pledge to take the Lead on Fighting Climate Change. Accessed on February 25, 202.Search in Google Scholar

Hajnal, Z. L. 2010. America’s Uneven Democracy: Race, Turnout, and Representation in City Politics. New York: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511800535Search in Google Scholar

Hajnal, Z. L., and J. Trounstine. 2010. “Who or What Governs? The Effects of Economics, Politics, Institutions, and needs on Local Spending.” American Politics Research 38 (6): 1130–63, in Google Scholar

Harris, E. and M. Holman. 2017. “All Politics Is Local? County Sheriffs and Localized Policies of Immigration Enforcement.” Political Research Quarterly. 70 (1): 142–54, in Google Scholar

Hertel-Fernandez, A., M. Mildenberger, and L. C. Stokes. 2018. “Legislative Staff and Representation in Congress.” American Political Science Review. 113 (1): 1–18, in Google Scholar

Jaffe, E. 2016. Some Bike Infrastructure is Worse than None at All: CityLab. Accessed on February 26, 2020.Search in Google Scholar

Lemos, M. C, and B. J. Morehouse. 2005. “The Co-production of Science and Policy in Integrated Climate Assessments.” Global Environmental Change. 15: 57–68, in Google Scholar

Lenton, T. M., J. Rockström, O. Gaffney, S. Rahmstorf, K. Richardson, W. Steffen, H. J. Schellnhuber. 2019. Climate Tipping Points -- Too Risky to Bet Against: Nature. Accessed on February 25, 2020.10.1038/d41586-019-03595-0Search in Google Scholar

Manville, M., and D. Shoup. 2005. “Parking, People, and Cities.” Journal of Urban Planning and Development. 131 (4): 234–45, in Google Scholar

McCarty, N. 2019. Polarization: Everything You need to Know. New York: Oxford University Press.10.1093/wentk/9780190867782.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Mildenberger, M. 2020. Carbon Captured: How Business and Labor Control Climate Politics. Cambridge, MA: MIT University Press.10.7551/mitpress/12393.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 2019. Traffic Safety Facts. Accessed on February 26, 2020.Search in Google Scholar

Norman, J. 2017. Democrats Drive Rise in Concern about Global Warming. Accessed on March 6, 2020.Search in Google Scholar

Peterson, P. 1981. City Limits. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.10.7208/chicago/9780226922645.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Rapinchuk, D. 2020. Carmel Mayor among Attendees of US Conference of Mayors winter meeting: Fox 59. Accessed on March 6, 2020.Search in Google Scholar

Schleicher, D. 2013. “City Unplanning.” Yale Law Journal 122: 1672–736.10.2139/ssrn.1990353Search in Google Scholar

Schragger, R. 2016. City Power: Urban Governance in a Global Age. New York: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Schuetz, J. To save the planet, the Green New Deal needs to improve urban land use: Brookings, June 15, 2019, Accessed on March 4, 2019.Search in Google Scholar

Shill, G. H. 2020. Should the Law Subsidize Driving?: New York University Law Review. Forthcoming.10.2139/ssrn.3345366Search in Google Scholar

Stokes, L. C. 2016. “Electoral Backlash against Climate Policy: A Natural Experiment on Retrospective Voting and Local Resistance to Public Policy.” American Journal of Political Science 80 (4): 958–74, in Google Scholar

Stokes, L. C., and H. L. Breetz. 2018. “Politics in the U.S. Energy Transition: Case Studies of Solar, Wind, Biofuels and Electric Vehicles Policy.” Energy Policy. 113: 76–86, in Google Scholar

Tefft, B. C. 2013. “Impact Speed and a Pedestrian’s Risk of Severe Injury or Death.” Accident Analysis and Prevention. 50: 871–8, in Google Scholar

The Economist. 2018. The Perilous Politics of Parking: The Economist. Accessed on February 26, 2020.Search in Google Scholar

Trounstine, J. L. 2018. Segregation by Design. New York: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/9781108555722Search in Google Scholar

Williamson, A. F., and A. Fung. 2004. “Public Deliberation: Where are we and where can we go?.” National Civic Review 93 (4): 3–15, in Google Scholar

Published Online: 2020-09-21

© 2020 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

Downloaded on 22.2.2024 from
Scroll to top button