ArticlePublisher preview available

Policy Design and Public Support for Carbon Tax: Evidence from a 2018 U.S. National Online Survey Experiment

To read the full-text of this research, you can request a copy directly from the authors.

Abstract and Figures

Public support for policy instruments is influenced by perceptions of how benefits and costs are distributed across various groups. We examine different carbon tax designs outlining different ways to distribute tax revenues. Using a national online sample of 1,606 U.S. respondents, we examine support for a $20/ton carbon tax that is: (1) Revenue Neutral: revenue is returned to citizens via tax cuts; (2) Compensation‐focused: revenue is directed to helping actors disproportionately hurt by the tax; (3) Mitigation‐focused: revenue funds projects reducing carbon emissions; and (4) Adaptation‐focused: revenue is directed to enhancing community resilience to extreme weather events. We find devoting revenue to mitigation raises overall support for carbon tax by +6.3% versus the control (54.9%) where no information on spending is provided. Other frames raise support in specific subgroups only. Revenue neutrality raises support among lower‐income households (+6.6%) and political independents (+9.4%), while ompensation increases support among lower‐income repondents (+6.1%).
This content is subject to copyright. Terms and conditions apply.
Policy design and public support for carbon
tax: Evidence from a 2018 US national online
survey experiment
Nives Dolšak
| Christopher Adolph
| Aseem Prakash
School of Marine and Environmental Affairs,
University of Washington, Seattle, USA
Department of Political Science, University
of Washington, Seattle, USA
Aseem Prakash, Department of Political
Science, University of Washington, 39 Gowen
Hall, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.
Public support for policy instruments is influenced by
perceptions of how benefits and costs are distributed
across various groups. We examine different carbon tax
designs outlining different ways to distribute tax revenues.
Using a national online sample of 1,606 US respondents, we
examine support for a $20/ton carbon tax that is: (1) revenue
neutral: revenue is returned to citizens via tax cuts; (2) compen-
sation-focused: revenue is directed to helping actors dispro-
portionately hurt by the tax; (3) mitigation-focused: revenue
funds projects reducing carbon emissions; and (4) adaptation-
focused: revenue is directed to enhancing community resil-
ience to extreme weather events. We find devoting revenue to
mitigation raises overall support for carbon tax by 6.3 per cent
versus the control (54.9 per cent) where no information on
spending is provided. Other frames raise support in specific
subgroups only. Revenue neutrality raises support among
lower-income households (+6.6 per cent) and political indepen-
dents (+9.4 per cent), while compensation increases support
among lower-income repondents (+6.1 per cent).
Public support is critical for policy success. Public administrators therefore seek public input to design policies that
citizens view as fair and effective (Page and Shapiro 1983; Lodge 1994; Majone 1999; Lodge and Stirton 2001;
Howlett 2009). Designing such policies becomes challenging when policies are perceived as imposing differential
costs and benefits across sectors (Soss and Schram 2007). And if these costs or benefits are perceived as concen-
trated on specific sectors (Lowi 1964; Wilson 1980), interest groups mobilize to support or oppose the policy. The
Received: 23 April 2019 Revised: 25 November 2019 Accepted: 21 January 2020
DOI: 10.1111/padm.12657
Public Admin. 2020;98:905921. © 2020 John Wiley & Sons Ltd 905
... In order to overcome public opposition, a burgeoning literature has pointed to the potential of revenue recycling as a means of building public support for carbon taxes and carbon pricing more generally [47,48,50,[54][55][56]. In particular, a number of scholars and policy actors have identified lump-sum transfers, or equal per capita dividends, as a promising strategy for building public support [52,57]. ...
... To be sure, there is substantial evidence to suggest that information provision on the benefits of certain carbon tax designs can enhance support [48,54,61]. However, other research has questioned the extent to which information deficits are part of the problem, suggesting that a better strategy may be to avoid the complex task of communicating policy details altogether [62]. ...
Full-text available
This study examines how unique audience segments within the Canadian population think and act toward climate change, and explores whether and how the level of audience engagement moderates the effect of various messages on support for climate policy. Drawing on a random probability sample of Canadian residents (N = 1207) conducted in October 2017, we first identify and describe five distinct audiences that vary in their attitudes, perceptions and behaviours with respect to climate change: the Alarmed (25%), Concerned (45%), Disengaged (5%), Doubtful (17%) and Dismissive (8%). We then explore how each segment responds to different messages about carbon pricing in Canada. We find that messages alluding to earmarking (i.e., “Invest in solutions”) or leveling the playing field for alternative energy sources (i.e., “Relative price”) increase support for a higher carbon price among the population as a whole. However, these messages decreased support for carbon pricing among more engaged audiences (e.g., Alarmed) when a low carbon price was specified to the respondent. Meanwhile, the “Relative price” is the only message that increased policy support among less engaged audiences–the Concerned and the Doubtful. In addition to highlighting the importance of tailoring and targeting messages for differently engaged segments, these results suggest that communicating around the specific consequences of carbon taxes for the prices of some goods may be a fruitful way to enhance support for carbon taxes among relatively less engaged audiences.
... Environmental deterioration is a multidimensional and complicated issue, which can have severe climate and socioeconomic implications and even affect the security of nations (Dolšak et al., 2020). ...
... However, public attitudes should be considered regarding environmental taxes and public acceptance is crucial in the implementation of environmental taxes (Dolšak et al., 2020;Duan et al., 2014;Grimsrud et al., 2020;Kotchen et al., 2017;McLaughlin et al., 2019); otherwise, any environmental tax proposal would be rejected as in case of Switzerland, France, Canada, and Australia (Carattini et al., 2017;Muhammad et al., 2021). To prevent the negative effects of different activities that are mostly fossil fuel-related, some regulatory measures like environmental tax should be taken (Marron & Toder, 2014). ...
Regulations and taxes are considered essential drivers for climate change policies and improving ecological quality. The prior research primarily relies on regulatory or non-economic measures to ensure ecological sustainability, while the role of market-based or economic measures in ecological sustainability is yet to be investigated. Hence, realizing the need for policy shift, this study is an effort to determine the dynamics between environmental taxes and ecological sustainability for the period between 1995/Q1 and 2018/Q4 using data of top-seven green economies by employing novel Quantile-on-Quantile (QQ) regression approach. The outcomes from the QQ approach indicate the mixed and asymmetric impact of the environmental taxes on ecological sustainability in sample countries over different quantiles. However, a higher ecological promoting impact is observed at upper-middle quantiles in most of the sample countries. The robustness of the study's results is validated by Quantile Regression (QR) approach and the nonparametric quantile causality test. The study's outcomes provide significant suggestions to formulate policies for helping sample economies to accomplish Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 7 and 13 while ensuring ecological sustainability.
... This is why we decided that instead of simply asking for the level of support for a meat tax, we should ask respondents to the hypothetical scenario to donate money to support NGOs that are lobbying for a meat tax. The intuition is that this sort of ask will at least encourage respondents to think about private costs they might have to bear in supporting specific policy positions which generate public benefits (Dolšak et al. 72 made the same argument in the context of assessing public support for a carbon tax). ...
Full-text available
The livestock sector accounts for 14.5% of global greenhouse emissions. Using an online survey experiment (n = 1200) in Italy, we examine respondents’ willingness to support a public petition for a meat tax sponsored by a nongovernmental organization (NGO) after priming them with information on the environmental impact of meat and an embedded moral message. Aiming to test whether institutional authority enhances the appeal of the moral message, we include Pope Francis (a religious authority) and a Professor of Philosophy (a secular authority) as the treatment frames along with a no-messenger (control) frame. Overall, support for meat tax is not significant in any of the treatment frames. However, highly religious individuals (those that practice and intensely believe in religion) across denominations and frames are more supportive of the meat tax. Moreover, we also find that there is a slight backlash among highly religious individuals when they receive the message with the Pope as messenger.
... These distributive justice concerns are also heterogeneous across individuals [43][44][45][46] . As a result, a certain use of carbon tax revenues might not receive public support if individuals perceive it as unfair 47,48 . At the same time, these perceptions can often be biased and lead to costs for society. ...
Full-text available
Carbon pricing can steer energy choices towards low-carbon fuels and foster energy conservation efforts. Simultaneously, higher fossil fuel prices may exacerbate energy poverty. A just portfolio of climate policies therefore requires a balanced instrument mix to jointly combat climate change and energy poverty. We review recent policy developments in the EU aimed at addressing energy poverty and the social implications of the climate neutrality transition. We then operationalise an affordability-based definition of energy poverty and numerically illustrate that recent EU climate policy proposals risk raising the number of energy poor when not accompanied with complementary measures, while alternative climate policy designs could lift more than 1 million households out of energy poverty through income-targeted revenue recycling schemes. While these schemes have low informational requirements and appear sufficient to avoid exacerbating energy poverty, the findings suggest that more tailored interventions are needed. Finally, we discuss how insights from behavioural economics and energy justice can help shape optimal policy packages and processes.
... Their findings are consistent with Greenstone's [58] report, where 57 percent of Americans would support a carbon policy, whether it be a tax or cap-and-trade. More recently, Dolšak et al. [59] found that overall support for carbon taxes ranges from 47.4 to 61.4 percent across different methods of distributing tax revenues. The support came from low-and high-income respondents and all political supporters. ...
Full-text available
Trust in government is a significant factor influencing the public acceptability of envi- ronmental tax. Without trust, implementing and sustaining a new tax policy is challenging due to public resistance. However, gaining trust from the public is even more challenging in developing countries where corruption is a common issue. Despite the risk of policy rejection, many developing countries, including Malaysia, are adopting the carbon tax as a policy to reduce carbon emissions. This has raised the question of the impact of trust in the government on public acceptability for carbon tax implementation in Malaysia. Another critical concern is identifying the predictors of trust in government, to which researchers have given less attention. Three main features of good governance—accountability, integrity, and competence—were examined as the predictors of trust in government. A nationwide survey in Malaysia was conducted using an online questionnaire, and 566 respondents completed the survey. The data were analysed using the Structural Equation Model (SEM) via Amos. The results show that trust in the government is influenced by the govern- ment’s accountability, integrity, and competence. In contrast with many past studies, trust in the government does not influence Malaysian acceptance behaviour. Instead, only the government’s accountability influences the acceptance of carbon tax implementation among the public. The public is concerned about the government’s spending; hence, the government must be transparent in its spending and redistributing the tax revenue to the public must be the top priority to gain public trust in implementing a carbon tax policy.
... More broadly, the results reinforce the emerging body of research that emphasises the importance of linking climate, environment, and economic policy together in order to ensure stable and high levels of public support for environmental policy. Previous research has found that redistributing revenue from carbon pricing (Kotchen et al. 2017;Beiser-McGrath and Bernauer 2019;Dolšak et al. 2020) and the pairing of social and climate policies (Bergquist et al. 2020) can significantly increase improve policy support through a focus on individuals' standards of living and compensating affected parties. With the rise in commodity prices and household energy, and associated concerns about cost of living and energy insecurity, in 2022, this will continue to be an important dimension for ensuring broad-based acceptance and support for climate and environmental policy. ...
A key question in understanding barriers to climate and environmental policy is whether changing economic conditions weaken individuals' support for climate and environmental action. The large body of literature examining this question, however, has come to contradictory results, with studies measuring changes within individuals typically finding no such effect (e.g. Mildenberger and Leiserowitz, Env Polit 26(5):801-824 2017). In this letter, I use the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic to provide a stringent test of how economic shocks affect concern for climate change and the environment. Using panel data from the UK, that was collected just before (November 2019) and just after (June 2020) the outbreak of COVID-19, I find that the pandemic caused individuals to significantly deprioritise climate change and the environment in absolute terms, and the environment relative to the economy. These effects significantly vary depending upon individuals' employment trajectories, concerns about the cost of living, and ideological preferences, but do not significantly vary by individuals' prior vote choice. The findings suggest that in times of severe economic distress, unlike smaller economic downturns, climate change and the environment is deprioritised. This has implications for our understanding of the political feasibility of climate and environmental action, when individuals are faced with harsh economic conditions.
... Since tax attitudes are shaped by taxpayer perceptions of who benefits from generated revenues [8], then the use of revenues from a carbon tax should also shape support. Polling suggests support for carbon tax may increase when a policy is revenue neutral [9], and experimental work finds revenue devoted to mitigation efforts (public transit or renewable energy) increases support relative to revenue neutrality, investment in adaptation, or compensation to affected workers [10]. ...
Full-text available
This paper explores the determinants of carbon taxation by focusing on recent efforts to tax carbon in Washington State. The paper identifies citizen demand, energy interests, and tax structure as possible factors in the emergence of carbon taxation. Washington has relatively high demand for climate action, and is unique with respect to its high reliance on indirect taxation and its low level of local fossil fuel interests. I argue this context, especially the high reliance on indirect taxation, makes taxation more appealing than other carbon pricing alternatives. I then test whether local tax structure shapes preferences for carbon taxation using county level opinion data. I find evidence that support for carbon taxation is higher in states with higher gasoline taxes, but no effect from sales and sin taxes. I conclude summarizing various accounts of each initiative’s failure, and highlight a few lessons from the efforts to tax carbon in Washington state.
... 35 An investigation into support for a new carbon tax among US respondents offered four revenue use options, namely: tax cuts; compensation-focused; mitigation-focused; and adaptation-focused. 36 In this chapter, we adopt the World Bank's four groupings for revenue recycling, 37 as outlined in the next subsection. ...
South Africa’s carbon tax was introduced in June 2019 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve sustainable development, and to systematically transition the country to operating within a greener economy. Given the very low tax rate and the fact that the South African government has not earmarked the carbon tax revenue for funding green initiatives, it is questionable whether this tax is sufficient to change economic behaviour, transition the country away from being fossil fuel dependent and provide the necessary impetus to meet the country’s climate change mitigation targets. Consequently, this paper examines the suitability of four carbon tax revenue recycling possibilities for decarbonising the country’s economy in a sustainable way. These comprise a reduction in labour taxes, a decrease in capital taxes, lump sum transfers to households and output-based rebates to industry. Only the first two options were found to be feasible in the South African context.
... (3) contextual factors" 3 (p.855). In addition to the categorization of major factors, another branch of the literature has also expanded significantly on the climate policy design aspect, which indeed helps to sharpen our theoretical and methodological rationale (Baranzini and Carattini, 2017;Rhodes et al., 2017;Stadelmann-Steffen and Dermont, 2018;Dermont and Stadelmann-Steffen, 2020;Beiser-McGrath and Bernauer, 2019;Nowlin et al., 2020;Amdur et al., 2014;Dolšak et al., 2020;Jagers et al., 2019;Klenert et al., 2018). Lastly, Egan and Mullin (2017) worked on a study that reviews the results and polling data of Americans' attitudes on climate change over the long term. ...
Full-text available
Climate change is posing significant threats to human societies and developmental prospects. Governments continue to design and propose comprehensive climate policies aimed at tackling the climate crisis but often fail to successfully implement them. One reason is that securing public support for such policy instruments has proven to be challenging. While public opinion research has often documented a positive correlation between beliefs in climate change and policy support, it has also become clear that the presence of such beliefs is in many situations not enough for policy support. This is the starting point of our study in which we delve deeper into the link between climate change beliefs and policy support by specifically integrating risk perceptions related to climate change but also related to policy solutions. Empirically, we leverage survey data from the United States and Switzerland and employ the random forest technique to further explore the mechanisms that link climate change beliefs, risk perceptions, and policy support. We use the case of carbon taxation, which is considered a particularly effective instrument by ecological economists but seems to be particularly unpopular politically. The results of this study suggest that beliefs and risk perceptions are very important predictors of support for carbon tax policies. Furthermore, they unveil the strongest predictors and specific patterns that generate the highest support in the United States and Switzerland.
Full-text available
This study aims at better understanding how, and to what extent, perceptions of a policy instrument’s distributional effects impact on policy support, focusing on the case of CO2 taxes on petrol in Sweden. Through a large-scale (N = 5000) randomized survey experiment with a 2 × 3 factorial design, the extent to which perceptions of fairness determine attitudes to a suggested increase of the Swedish CO2 tax is explored. Furthermore, the study considers whether these effects change with the level of the suggested tax increase, as well as whether negative sentiments can be alleviated by combining it with a compensatory measure in the shape of a simultaneous income tax cut financed by the revenues from the tax increase. The results show that a higher tax increase is both viewed as more unfair and enjoys weaker support. Furthermore, compensatory measures can be a powerful policy design tool to increase perceptions of the policy as fair, but the effect of compensation on policy support is conditioned by the individual’s left–right ideological position. Whereas people self-identifying to the right react favourably to compensatory measures, people self-identifying to the left become less supportive of a tax increase when combined with a simultaneous cut in income taxes. Key policy insights • Perceptions of fairness are highly important for explaining public support for climate policy tools, specifically CO2 taxes. • Compensatory measures can be a powerful policy design tool to increase perceptions of the policy as less unfair. • However, the effect of compensatory measures on policy support is conditioned by ideological position, and only successful among people to the ideological right. • In contexts dominated by right-wing ideals, a combination of a tax and a compensatory scheme may be a successful route forward towards increased climate policy support. • In left-oriented contexts the results imply that a CO2 tax without compensation seems more likely to increase support.
Full-text available
Previous literature demonstrates that when street-level bureaucrats believe that the policy as designed is not desirable, they utilize various strategies to change the situation. This study suggests that when street-level bureaucrats believe that fixing a policy through the manner in which it is implemented is not enough, they will try to influence the design of the policy directly. Three factors promote this decision: public perceptions revealed in their interactions with clients, professional ethical values and a supportive organizational environment. We test this argument using Israeli public social workers in the context of urban renewal. We discuss the problems and benefits of involving street-level bureaucrats in policy design and view such actions as related to welfare reform and changes in the state's responsibility for its citizens. We maintain that in this changing environment, street-level bureaucrats’ involvement in policy design should be formally institutionalized.
Full-text available
We provide evidence from a nationally representative survey on Americans' willingness to pay (WTP) for a carbon tax, and public preferences for how potential carbon-tax revenue should be spent. The average WTP for a tax on fossil fuels that increases household energy bills is US$177 per year. This translates into an average WTP of 14% more on average for households across the United States, where energy costs differ significantly across states. Regarding the tax revenues, Americans are most in support of using the money to invest in clean energy and infrastructure. There is relatively less support for reducing income or payroll taxes, returning dividends to households, and other expenditure categories. Finally, Americans support using the tax revenues to assist displaced workers in the coal industry enough to compensate each miner nearly US$146 000 upon passage of a carbon tax.
Full-text available
Procedural fairness theory posits that the way in which authoritative decisions are made strongly impacts people’s willingness to accept them. This article challenges this claim by contending that democratic governments can achieve little in terms of acceptance of policy decisions by the procedural means at their disposal. Instead, outcome favorability is the dominant determinant of decision acceptance. The article explicates that while central parts of procedural fairness theory are true, outcome favorability is still overwhelmingly the strongest determinant of individuals’ willingness to accept authoritative decisions. It improves on previous research by locating all key variables into one causal model and testing this model using appropriate data. Findings from a large number of experiments (both vignette and field) reproduce the expected relationships from previous research and support the additional predictions. © Cambridge University Press 2016 This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Welche Funktion erfüllt Kulturpolitik in historischer sowie in gegenwärtiger, internationaler Perspektive? Der Band spannt einen Bogen über 220 Jahre Ideengeschichte von Kulturpolitik(en) in nationaler und internationaler Perspektive. Rund fünfzig Beiträge zu Kulturpolitik und Kulturpolitikforschung aus und zu verschiedenen Nationen, aber auch zu supranationalen Einrichtungen wie der EU und der UNESCO geben Wissenschaftlern, Studierenden und Praktikern erstmalig einen umfassenden Überblick über Diskurse und Methoden der Kulturpolitik(-forschung). Mit Texten von Friedrich Schiller, Wilhelm von Humboldt, Matthew Arnold, John Dewey, Hermann Glaser und Karl Heinz Stahl, Paul DiMaggio und Michael Useem, Alfred K. Treml, Dirk Baecker, Edward C. Banfield, Norbert Lammert, John Maynard Keynes, Xi Jinping, Theodor Heuss, Constance DeVereaux und Martin Griffin, Dan Eugen Ratiu, Yudhishthir Raj Isar, Kiran Klaus Patel, Margaret J. Wyszomirski, Jörg Rössel und Sebastian Weingartner, Bruno S. Frey, Michael Hutter, Walter Benjamin, Joseph Beuys, Jacques Rancière, Boris Groys sowie Kazimir Malevich u.v.a.
en The social construction of target populations has emerged as an influential framework for understanding the public policy process. In particular, target populations have been shown to shape the allocation of benefits and burdens by political elites. However, existing studies focus on the elite level, which overlooks whether public preferences are aligned with the allocation of policy benefits and burdens by political elites. Moreover, many studies treat social constructions as homogenous, which this paper calls into question. Using a nation‐wide survey experiment, I investigate variation in public support for affirmative action policies with randomly assigned target populations. The findings indicate that the public formulates policy preferences on the basis of perceived deservingness of target groups similar to political elites. In addition, the findings uncover heterogeneity in the effect of targeting on public opinion based on ideology and racial/ethnic group identity. Abstract zh 对目标人群的社会建构已成为理解公共政策过程的重要框架。具体来说,现有研究已证明目标人群可以影响政治精英对利益和负担的分配。然而,现有研究将重点放在了精英层面,而忽视了公众偏好是否与政治精英对政策利益和负担的分配相一致。此外,许多研究认为社会建构是同质的,本文对此提出了质疑。本研究进行了一项全国范围的调查实验,根据随机分配的目标人群,我们对平权法案政策的公众支持差异进行了研究。研究结果表明,与政治精英类似,公众会依据他们对目标群体的感知价值来形成他们的政策偏好。此外,我们的研究结果发现,这种作用于公众意见的影响会因意识形态和种族或族群身份而产生差异。
Climate action has two pillars: mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation faces collective action issues because its costs are focused on specific locations/actors but benefits are global and nonexcludable. Adaptation, in contrast, creates local benefits, and therefore should face fewer collective action issues. However, governance units vary in the types of adaptation policies they adopt. To explain this variation, we suggest conceptualizing adaptation-aspolitics because adaptation speaks to the issues of power, conflicting policy preferences, resource allocation, and administrative tensions. In examining who develops and implements adaptation, we explore whether adaptation is the old wine of disaster management in the new bottle of climate policy, and the tensions between national and local policy making. In exploring what adaptation policies are adopted, we discuss maladaptation and the distinction between hard and soft infrastructure. Finally, we examine why politicians favor visible, hard adaptation over soft adaptation, and how international influences shape local policy. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Environment and Resources Volume 43 is October 17, 2018. Please see for revised estimates.
To what extent do survey experimental treatment effect estimates generalize to other populations and contexts? Survey experiments conducted on convenience samples have often been criticized on the grounds that subjects are sufficiently different from the public at large to render the results of such experiments uninformative more broadly. In the presence of moderate treatment effect heterogeneity, however, such concerns may be allayed. I provide evidence from a series of 15 replication experiments that results derived from convenience samples like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk are similar to those obtained from national samples. Either the treatments deployed in these experiments cause similar responses for many subject types or convenience and national samples do not differ much with respect to treatment effect moderators. Using evidence of limited within-experiment heterogeneity, I show that the former is likely to be the case. Despite a wide diversity of background characteristics across samples, the effects uncovered in these experiments appear to be relatively homogeneous.
While transparency is viewed as a means of improving citizen understanding of public policies and eliciting policy support, there are few empirical assessments of these relationships. We address this gap in the literature using an experimental design. We predict that exposure to less detailed policy information improves policy understanding, and that this effect varies according to presentation format. Further, we predict that policy understanding will correspond to greater policy support. Using a nationally representative panel of US citizens we find that exposure to detailed policy information decreases policy understanding and that the effect varies by presentation format. In addition, policy understanding is negatively associated with policy support. These findings culminate in a positive indirect effect—increasing detail reduces understanding, which in turn is negatively associated with policy support. However, interestingly, policy support was highest among those who felt they understood the policy best, yet possessed the lowest levels of actual understanding.