The Social and Political Impact of Natural Disasters Investigating Attitudes and Media Coverage in the Wake of Disasters

University dissertation from Uppsala : Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis

Abstract: Natural disasters are social and political phenomena. Social structures create vulnerability to natural hazards and governments are often seen as responsible for the effects of disasters. Do social trust, political trust, and government satisfaction therefore generally change following natural disasters? How can media coverage explain change in political attitudes? Prior research suggests that these variables are prone to change, but previous studies often focus on single cases, whereas this dissertation adopts a broader approach, examining multiple disasters. It investigates the social and political impact of natural disasters by examining their effect on social and political attitudes and by exploring media coverage as a mechanism underlying political consequences.The results reveal that natural disasters may have a comparatively frequent, although small and temporary, effect on social trust. Substantial effects are less likely. Social trust was found to decrease significantly when disasters cause nine or more fatalities (Paper I). Political attitudes were expected to be prone to change after natural disasters, but Paper II illustrates that political trust and government satisfaction among citizens are generally hardly affected by these events. Finally, media framing and the political claims of actors explained the variation in political consequences after disasters of similar severity. Paper III also illustrates the importance of the political context of natural disasters, as their occurrence can be strategically exploited by actors to further criticism towards the government in politically tense situations.This dissertation contributes to existing disaster research by investigating more cases than disaster studies typically do. It also uses a systematic case selection process, and a quantitative approach with a, for disaster research, unique research design. Hence, it offers methodological nuance to existing studies. A broader analysis, factoring in the variation of disaster severity and the increased number of cases offers new answers and tests assumptions about underlying patterns. The main contribution of this thesis is that it examines how common political and social effects of disasters are. Furthermore, this dissertation contributes to existing disasters research by emphasizing contextual and explanatory factors, e.g., properties of disasters and the political context that affects the media coverage of natural disasters.