Americans warming up to the idea of a carbon tax in latest energy and environment survey

March 24, 2017

According to "Moving the needle on American support for a carbon tax," a Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP) report by Daniel Puskin (American University) and Sarah Mills (Ford School), Americans are 'increasingly warming' to the idea of a carbon tax to reduce the use of fossil fuels and combat climate change.

The report describes results from CLOSUP's fall 2016 National Surveys on Energy and Environment (NSEE), conducted by the Ford School of Public Policy and the Institute of Public Opinion at Muhlenberg College, and was published in the March 2017 edition of Issues in Energy and Environmental Policy.

As detailed in the report, the results of the 2016 NSEE—conducted in the weeks leading up to the 2016 election—found significant growth in support for carbon taxes in comparison to past surveys. Over the past seven years, respondents have been asked four previous times whether or not they would consider supporting "a tax to reduce greenhouse gases by taxing fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas."

Before the latest survey, only up to 36 percent of respondents said they would consider supporting such a policy. In the latest round, however, 50 percent of survey respondents expressed their support for a carbon tax. The level of support was found to have increased among all partisan groups from the spring 2014 NSEE. In the fall 2016 survey, 66 percent of Democrats supported a carbon tax, up from 37 percent in spring 2014; for Republicans, support doubled from 15 percent in 2014 to 30 percent in 2016. And 47 percent of Independents were found to be supportive, up from 38 percent.

Though support for a carbon tax did increase, this support was affected by how revenue collected from the tax would be spent. The survey found that 66 percent of respondents would support the tax if revenue was spent on research and development of renewable energy programs, and 62 percent would support the tax if it included an income tax rebate to make the policy revenue-neutral. Using the revenue to tackle deficit reduction, however, proved an unpopular proposal—only 42 percent of respondents would support the tax if used in that way.

The report concludes that there is certainly more openness to the possibility of a carbon tax, but that support for it is largely contingent on how revenue generated by the tax would be used. "While a revenue-neutral option would appear to provide wider appeal across the political spectrum, the NSEE finds—as it did in 2014—that directing revenues to renewable energy R&D might actually enjoy wider appeal."

The Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP) at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy conducts, supports and fosters applied academic research to inform local, state, and urban policy issues.

More news from the Ford School