The Political Fallout of Chernobyl: Evidence from West-German Elections

Christoph Koenig

Research output: Working paperDiscussion paper


I study the effect of a formative experience on political beliefs in a distant country. This paper looks at the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of April 1986 and voters’ response in West Germany. The analysis uses a diff-in-diff estimation which exploits variation in proximity to the nearest nuclear power plant (NPP) across 301 counties. Proximity is used as proxy for the shock from perceived risk of a nuclear accident. Using data over almost 40 years and 11 elections, my results indicate that living closer to an NPP benefited the explicitly anti- and pro-nuclear parties, the Greens and the Conservatives. The findings are persistent and robust to the inclusion of several socioeconomic controls as well as checks for the validity of the identifying assumptions. The gains of the Greens are similar across social groups and in line with home-voter effects. The effect of proximity on the conservatives increases with education and the number of adolescents in their impressionable years. I argue that this can be explained by political belief formation and di.erences in assessing the economic benefits from nuclear power over the actual risk of an accident. Using variation in the scheduling of subsequent state elections, I can also show that the pro-nuclear response was stronger in counties which did not vote in the immediate aftermath of Chernobyl and thus had more time for a rational electoral choice.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015

Structured keywords

  • ECON Applied Economics


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