How To Sell A Carbon Tax To Voters – Poll

Vadim Petrakov/

Passing carbon tax legislation might be a long shot, but the latest Morning Consult survey suggests there’s one good way to pitch it to voters: tell them the proceeds will wind up in their pockets.

Taxing carbon-based fuels like oil, natural gas and coal, and using the money to rebate households isn’t an idea out of left field. There’s currently a carbon tax bill floating in Congress from Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) and Brian Schatz (Hawaii) that would, among other things, use some of the revenue to offer taxpayers a $500 dollar refundable tax credit. But Whitehouse and Schatz’s bill doesn’t make equal cuts elsewhere in the tax code, which might be its downfall in a Republican-led Congress.

Outside of Congress some proponents, including the New York Times editorial board, are embracing carbon tax legislation that would refund households through direct payments to offset the impact – particularly on the poor – of higher electricity and gasoline prices.

A majority of the public likes that idea.

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Fifty-three percent of voters, including exactly half of Republicans and independents, say they’d be more likely to support placing a tax on carbon if the proceeds were sent to back to households to offset the impact of the tax.

Another idea – using carbon tax revenue to lower the deficit – would also make voters more likely to support the policy, though to a lesser degree. Forty-three percent say reducing the deficit via a carbon tax would make supporting it easier, compared to 18 percent who say it would make the policy less amenable.

Republican lawmakers and the energy industry have fiercely opposed most of President Obama’s climate policies, particularly the administration’s attempt to cap carbon emissions from power plants. Opposition has been so strong that some have theorized that replacing the “Clean Power Plan” with a carbon tax could be more amenable to the right.

Voters, however, are not sold on that idea. When asked if they would support a carbon tax as a replacement for other environmental regulations, 25 percent of voters say that if a carbon tax displaced other environmental rules, they’d be more likely to support the measure; 22 percent say that would make them less likely to support a carbon tax, while 28 percent say it would have no impact on their opinion.

In general, a carbon tax has lukewarm support.

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Forty-five percent of registered voters support a carbon tax, but most of that support comes from Democrats, who favor the policy at a ratio greater than three-to-one. A majority of Republicans, 52 percent, are opposed, and independents are nearly split, with 40 percent supporting and 36 percent in opposition.

The Morning Consult poll was conducted from June 12 – June 15, 2015, among a national sample of 2,039 registered voters. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Morning Consult