Measuring Public Perceptions of Water Governance in Nebraska and Washington
Edwards, Michelle Lynn
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Complex water governance systems are considered more effective when they build trust among their stakeholders. State-wide surveys of the general public can provide important insights into how trust influences stakeholders' perceptions of various water issues. This dissertation aims to identify public perceptions of water governance in two states and to develop an effective methodological approach for measuring these perceptions. To do so, I surveyed address-based random samples of the general public in Nebraska and Washington using web and mail surveys. My first analysis reports findings from an embedded methodological test which explored the effects of sponsorship on survey response. Results from this analysis demonstrated that surveys sponsored by a university located in the same state as sample members achieved significantly higher response rates than out-of-state-sponsored surveys. In some ways, these differences were even more prominent when I requested a web response. Varying sponsorship also produced differences in final samples in terms of political party affiliation and resulted in differences in responses to some water governance questions, but not others. My second analysis examines public perceptions of the legitimacy of different water governance organizations for resolving water conflicts over the Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska and the Columbia River in Washington. Results indicated almost half of Washington and Nebraska residents viewed state government organizations as most responsible for resolving these water conflicts. Residents also demonstrated similarities in the ways they legitimized their selections, though certain legitimacy types were better predictors of people's selections of particular organizations than others. My third analysis assesses the influence of political partisanship on perceptions of drought risk and adaptive capacity to drought at the community- and regional-levels. Results demonstrated larger differences between Democrats and Republicans' perceptions of drought risk and adaptive capacity in Washington than in Nebraska. Also, while variables measuring several dimensions of trust (e.g., trust in scientists, trust in long-time residents) were important for predicting public perceptions, these variables mattered differently for Republicans and Democrats. Overall, this dissertation deepens our sociological understanding of the role of trust in explaining public perceptions of water governance systems in the United States.