Download the recent paper led by Ph.D. student Jing Liang—Energy transition, public expressions, and local officials’ incentives: Social media evidence from the coal-to-gas transition in China.
Abstract: To mitigate air pollution from residential sources, a coal-to-gas transition was introduced by the Chinese government to promote cleaner energy in households. With unintended consequences brought out by the inappropriate implementation, the public’s complaints act as a barometer of public opinions. This study provides an empirical evaluation of the coal-to-gas transition policy using timely social media data. This paper also explores whether local officials have incentives to respond to public expressions. Fixed effects panel regressions are applied using 46,561 posts from Sina Weibo during 2015–2019, combined with data on official characteristics at prefectural-level cities. The content analysis suggests that the public’s complaints include poor policy design, natural gas shortage, official corruption, incorrect approach, increased cost, and safety concerns. The results indicate that the implementation of the coal-to-gas transition increased the complaints on Sina Weibo. Additionally, we find no measurable evidence that the implementation of the transition affects the promotion probabilities of local leaders. The results suggest that public complaints should be considered during policy implementation, and a reformed cadre evaluation system should include public satisfaction to improve social welfare.