Voter Psychology and the Carbon Tax

42 Pages Posted: 11 Feb 2017 Last revised: 20 Mar 2017

Gary Lucas, Jr.

Texas A&M University School of Law

Date Written: February 10, 2017


The palpable fear among environmentalists that the Trump Administration spells climate doom may prove overblown. Although President Trump called climate change a “hoax” during his campaign, he has since stated that he is “very open-minded” about its existence, and his top advisors recently met with a group of Republican elder statesmen to discuss the possibility of a carbon tax. Similarly, many states are considering ambitious proposals to address global warming. In addition, a majority of the American public believes that global warming warrants government intervention, which increases the likelihood that the federal government will eventually take significant action.

If and when the government acts, economists across the political spectrum argue that a carbon tax would be the most effective and economically efficient policy. Voters, however, strongly oppose the carbon tax and instead favor “green” subsidies and command-and-control regulations, the use of which would make global warming mitigation incredibly expensive and perhaps even infeasible. This Article argues that the public dislikes the carbon tax because the tax possesses attributes that make it psychologically unappealing relative to other climate policy instruments. The Article also argues that even if carbon tax proponents eventually persuade voters to accept a carbon tax, voters are biased in favor of particular design features that, if adopted, would make the tax less efficient. The Article discusses ways to overcome the problems that voter psychology creates. These include a communications strategy designed to combat voter bias and the controversial proposition that bureaucrats, who are somewhat insulated from public pressure, might adopt a carbon tax administratively. The Article also contributes to the burgeoning literature on how voter psychology affects the law and public policy.

Keywords: carbon tax, climate change, global warming, voter psychology, behavioral public choice, debiasing

JEL Classification: D62, D72, H23, Q54

Suggested Citation

Lucas, Jr., Gary, Voter Psychology and the Carbon Tax (February 10, 2017). Texas A&M University School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 17-18. Available at SSRN:

Gary Lucas, Jr. (Contact Author)

Texas A&M University School of Law ( email )

1515 Commerce St.
Fort Worth, TX 76102
United States

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