New Poll Finds Overwhelming Support For A Carbon Tax Over Spending Cuts For Deficit Reduction

recent poll found Americans would prefer a carbon tax to cutting spending for deficit reduction by a huge margin.

Commissioned by Friends of the Earth and conducted by the Mellman Group in December, the poll is the latest evidence that actions on climate change — and efforts to tax or cap carbon emissions specifically — are not the inevitable political losers assumed by beltway pundits. Another recent study by The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication determined that bipartisan majorities of voters felt action on global warming should be a priority, would consider a politicians’ views on the matter when voting, and support regulating carbon as a pollutant.

Among other things, the Friends of the Earth poll found that on the carbon tax:

  • Voters overwhelmingly prefer it to cutting spending. When presented with two options for reducing the deficit — a carbon tax on “big polluters such as oil, gas, and other companies,” versus spending cuts for “programs like education, Social Security, Medicare and environmental protection” — 67 percent favored the carbon tax. 59 percent favored it “strongly.”
  • Voters support it regardless of how it’s used. If revenue from the carbon tax is used to close the budget deficit, 70 percent favored a carbon tax, with 51 percent favoring it “strongly.” If revenue was to both shore up the budget and invest in clean energy jobs and programs to fight climate change, 72 percent favored the tax, with 54 percent in the “strongly” camp.
  • Voters support it even after hearing the counter-arguments. After being presented with suggestions that “this is the wrong time to pass a new tax on every business and consumer in America,” that consumers will pay higher prices for gas and groceries, and that it might even fail to reduce emissions, over two-thirds of voters still favored the carbon tax — and once again, most who favored it did so “strongly.”
  • Voters support it even when they’re Republican. Not surprisingly, 93 percent of Democrats favored a carbon tax. What was surprising was that 66 percent of Republicans did.

Another poll in December 2012, sponsored by the Oscar M. Ruebhausen Fund and conducted by YouGov, uncovered very similar numbers: When presented with various options for reducing $900 billion from the deficit by 2022, 56 percent favored a carbon tax that would bring in $159 billion in revenue over that time period — and favored it even with the knowledge it would raise the average cost of living by about $600 a year. The carbon tax option as favored over cutting Medicare benefits (34 percent) or cutting Social Security benefits (27 percent), and even favored over repealing ObamaCare (52 percent).

These results really shouldn’t be that surprising. While voters often support “cutting spending” or “shrinking government” in the abstract, multiple polls over the last few years have found that as soon as voters are asked about specific programs that meet concrete and particular needs, the enthusiasm for spending cuts vanishes entirely. Context matters enormously, and in the real world policies are always considered and passed in lieu of alternatives. So simply asking voters their opinion on a policy in a vacuum doesn’t provide a useful picture of their preferences. As Slate pointed out when discussing the YouGov poll, “People may hate the idea of a carbon tax in the abstract, but when faced with the alternatives for raising revenue, more than half of them support it.”

Meanwhile, the same shift is occurring internationally as well: In Britain, the number of voters there who see themselves as worse off under a carbon tax dropped in mid-2012 to a new low of 38 percent.

13 Responses to New Poll Finds Overwhelming Support For A Carbon Tax Over Spending Cuts For Deficit Reduction

  1. Leif says:

    Surely democracy must come to the USA one of these days soon. Yet BIG MONEY still calls the shots. Go figure.

  2. Tim Palmer says:

    In order to be able to increase the price of carbon significantly enough to substantially reduce CO2 emissions, the electorate will have to be solidly behind it. The best way to do this is to return the proceeds from taxing all fossil fuel, wherever it first enters the economy, back to the adult population of the country in equal shares*

    This approach has considerable additional benefits. It keeps the proceeds out of the hands of politicians, who will distribute much of it for political favor. It seems quite likely a good deal would find its way BACK to the fossil fuel industry via ‘our’ elected officialsl! When compared to cap and trade, it also conserves taxpayer money that would otherwise go to the Wall Street types as profit from trading!

    Giving the proceeds back to the consumers gives them a greater opportunity to influence the market by making more energy efficient purchases as carbon prices escalate, thereby maximizing the benefit of their carbon tax dividend.

    The population will have to stand firm against the lies and, ultimately, the moans, screams and thrashing about of a fossil fuel industry that will fight such changes at every turn. The people will be much more likely to do so if they can clearly see that they are the ones who decide how the carbon tax proceeds will be spent.

    *This is Jim Hansen’s suggestion, not my own.

  3. Brendan says:

    Hi, you cite Britain for poll for the carbon tax, but the poll is for Australia’s. As far as i know, there is no carbon tax in the UK.

  4. sal esman says:

    Commisioned by FRIENDS of the EARTH? LMAO

  5. Ozonator says:

    A CO2 pole is like a space elevator to deniers’ funders. The extreme GOP’s divine destiny is to shut down the federal government and sell it for used parts. Not needing clean air, they are increasing plantations on public land for those unable sleep from the abuse of free people or fire an assault rifle from a moving SUV.

  6. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The ‘public’ have no say, anymore, unless it is the deliberately fomented mass lunacy of the Tea Party or other astro-turf creations. These, being pretty dumb, happily ignorant but easily roused to fury targeted at the poor, immigrants, ‘pinkos’ etc, but never, ever, at the rich (the heroes of the soap opera, amongst whose ranks the poor deranged Mad Hatters expect to find themselves one day)are a really regressive feature of end-stage capitalism. Really, does not the sight of ‘ignorance in action’ fill one with a mix of repulsion and dread, all at once?

  7. John McCormick says:

    Oz, I admit having difficulty following your trail of thought most times.

    On this thread, you said, “The extreme GOP’s divine destiny is to shut down the federal government and sell it for used parts.”

    Brilliant statement and a frightening fact.

    You can contribute more by offering straight trails of thought such as that and less of the ‘moon shot’ comments.

    Just a suggestion.

  8. BillD says:

    The public does not usually lead policy, but at some point, government policy has to align with public sentiment. Thus I disagree with pessimistic comments above.

    I was recently asked for comments on a coal gasification project by my GOP state senator. Since the request came in a personal letter and she knows about my interests and expertise as a professor, I spent over an hour doing research and writing a letter with my comments. We cerainly need an accelerated move away from fossil fuels to renewable energy (a point in my letter). However, the poll cited in this post shows that US citizens may be more knowledgeable than the pessimists give them credit.

  9. Yet another poll that will have a shelf life of less than 24 hours.

  10. Ernest says:

    Can climate change be the new “wedge” issue in 2014 and 2016 as is immigration in 2012 for the GOP? (Here you would also pair it with immediate tangibles such as “cutting government benefits”.)

  11. Paul says:

    We have a carbon tax in Australia and it is the most unpopular tax ever to be introduced. The Liberals have vowed to scrap it if they get in to power after the election in September.
    It was introduced to tax businesses but the cost has just been passed on to the end consumers. Its been a chronic failure and also very unpopular. If anyone suggests that carbon taxing won’t be unpopular just point them towards Australia for a real world experience of it.

  12. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The carbon tax has had little effect on consumers. The privatised electricity utilities, with typical capitalist rapacity, have been increasing prices for some time, to beef up profits, satisfy share-holders and pay off the interest on the huge debt they incurred to loot the common wealth. The carbon tax has been assailed by one of the most dishonest, deranged and hysterical campaigns ever mounted by the Right, with the overwhelmingly denialist MSM, led by the Murdoch affliction, leading the way with their customary bias. The opposition to the carbon tax comes from the crudest and most moronic denialists, they type of creature who denies the very need for any action, because climate science is well-known, in imbecile circles, to be nought but a Communist plot to take away Paul and his ilk’s plasma TVs, SUVs, and air-conditioning.

  13. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I think he adds a certain touch of erratic charm.