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Political trust and the environment: Understanding public attitudes towards environmental taxes and other policies

Research project Experts support taxes on pollution and polluting activities, so why is public opinion very often hostile towards them? One reason is that people distrust their countries’ politicians and political systems, but we do not fully understand why and how. This project will dig deeper, particularly by comparing attitudes towards environmental taxes with attitudes towards other taxes and other environmental policies.

In order to address climate change and other serious environmental problems, experts say governments should raise taxes on pollution and polluting activities. Public opinion, however, tends to be hostile towards these policies. Why? Previous research suggests the reason is largely that people distrust their countries’ politicians and political systems, but there is much we do not yet understand about this relationship. Using new public opinion data from Sweden, Spain, the United States, and Mexico, this project will deepen our understanding, particularly by focusing on different forms of political trust as well as comparing public attitudes towards environmental taxes with attitudes towards other taxes and other environmental policies.

Head of project

Project overview

Project period:

2020-01-01 2022-12-31

Funding

Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg Foundation

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Sociology

Research subject

Sociology

Project description

The aim of this project is to better understand public attitudes towards environmental policies. Experts say that one of the most effective actions that governments could take for addressing climate change and other serious environmental problems would be to make polluters pay to pollute, using taxes on pollution or polluting activities. Public opinion, however, is generally hostile towards these policy instruments. Research in recent years has shown that this opposition is largely due to political distrust. But little is known about what specific aspects of political trust matter for people's policy preferences, or about how the relationship between political distrust and attitudes towards environmental taxes relates to people’s overall views on taxes and policies. We will investigate these relationships using analyses of both large international survey datasets, as well as new survey experiments in four countries: Sweden, Spain, the United States, and Mexico.

The project will make a significant contribution to the literature on environmental policy attitudes, by examining the impacts of political trust in a more systematic way, and by clarifying its direct and indirect linkages to a wide range of environmental policy attitudes.