U.S. Department of Commerce


Date of this Version



Ocean & Coastal Management 119 (2016) 128-134


U.S. Government Work


In the 1960s and 1970's, prominent environmental disasters seemed to mobilize the U.S. public, and many key environmental laws were subsequently enacted. Theories surrounding public opinion formation, however, generally regard single events as unlikely to impact attitudes in a major way. Given the conflicting evidence provided by anecdotal accounts and public opinion theory, we explore whether the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (Gulf Oil Spill) impacted public concern for the environment in the United States. In this study we use data from a national-level survey implemented before and after the Gulf Oil Spill to examine pre- and post-spill environmental attitudes as measured by a subset of the New Ecological Paradigm scale. We find that there is insufficient evidence to suggest that the recent Gulf Oil Spill had a significant impact on environmental attitudes, a result consistent with theories concerning the influence of individual events on public opinion. Additional findings imply that some types of messages are likely to be more effective than others in public communications about the environment.