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

Einstein, Katherine Levine, David M. Glick, and Maxwell Palmer. 2020. “Can Mayors Lead on Climate Change? Evidence from Six Years of Surveys.” Working Paper.


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.