Rating Threat Mitigators: Faith in Experts, Governments, and Individuals Themselves to Create a Safer World

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Abstract

This research explores public judgments about the threat-reducing potential of experts, individual behavior, and government spending. The data are responses of a national sample of 1225 to mail surveys that include measures of several dimensions of public judgments about violent crime, automobile accidents, hazardous chemical waste, air pollution, water pollution, global warming, AIDS, heart disease, and cancer. Beliefs about who can best mitigate threats are specific to classes of threats. In general, there is little faith that experts can do much about violent crime and automobile accidents, moderate faith in their ability to address problems of global warming, and greater expectations for expert solutions to the remaining threats. People judge individual behavior as effective in reducing the threats of violent crime, AIDS, heart disease, and automobile accidents but less so for the remaining threats. Faith in more government spending is highest for AIDS and the other two health items, lowest for the trio of violent crime, automobile accidents, and global warming, and moderate for the remaining threats. For most threats, people are not distributed at the extremes in judging mitigators. Strong attitudinal and demographic cleavages are also lacking, although some interesting relationships occur. This relative lack of sharp cleavages and the generally moderate opinion indicate ample opportunity for public education and risk communication.

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