Air pollution and political trust in local government: evidence from China

Yao Yao, Xue Li, Russell Smyth, Lin Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


While it is well-established that air pollution damages health and inhibits productivity, the political cost of air pollution remains poorly understood. We estimate the causal effect of air pollution on political trust in local government in China, which underpins the stability of the authoritarian state. Combining a nationally representative longitudinal survey with satellite derived PM2.5 concentrations, we find that a one μg/m³ exogenous increase in PM2.5 concentrations, due to atmospheric thermal inversion, reduces trust in local government by 4.1 per cent of one standard deviation. This implies that if China were to reduce PM2.5 emissions to the annual standard of 35 μg/m³ mandated by the Chinese government, this would boost trust in local government by 21.2 per cent evaluated at the mean. We examine the underlying transmission channels and find that prolonged exposure to PM2.5 lowers citizens’ life satisfaction and evaluation of local government performance, induces adverse health effects, imposes additional financial burden and, albeit to a lesser extent, reduces household income.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102724
Number of pages31
JournalJournal of Environmental Economics and Management
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2022


  • Air pollution
  • CFPS
  • China
  • JEL classification: Q01
  • Local government
  • PM
  • Political trust
  • Q56
  • Q58

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