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Perceived Risk and Citizen Preferences for Governmental Management of Routine Hazards



Risk perceptions are important to the policy process because they inform individuals’ preferences for government management of hazards that affect personal safety, public health, or ecological conditions. Studies of risk in the policy process have often focused on explicating the determinants of risk perceptions for highly salient, high consequence hazards (e.g., nuclear energy). We argue that it is useful to also study more routinely experienced hazards; doing so shows the relevance of risk perceptions in individuals’ daily lives. Our investigation focuses on the impact perceived risk has on citizens’ preferences over hazard management policies (as distinct from identifying risk perception determinants per se). We use a recursive structural equation model to analyze public opinion data measuring attitudes in three distinct issue domains: air pollution, crime, and hazardous waste storage and disposal. We find that citizens utilize perceived risk rationally: greater perceived risk generally produces support for more proactive government to manage potential hazards. This perceived risk–policy response relationship generally holds even though the policy options respondents were asked to consider entailed nontrivial costs to the public. The exception seems to be when individuals know less about the substantive issue domain.