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Public acceptance for environmental taxes: Self-interest, environmental and distributional concerns

Steffen Kallbekken, Håkon Sælen

While strongly recommended by economists, it has often been politically difficult to impose taxes on externalities. There is a substantial literature on public attitudes towards environmental taxes. There has, however, been few comprehensive attempts to understand attitudes towards environmental taxes. The main research question in this paper is which factors influence support for fuel taxation. We propose a model of attitudes towards fuel taxation, and test this model as well as more specific hypotheses, using data from a representative survey of the adult Norwegian population. Our results suggest that support for fuel taxation is best predicted by beliefs about environmental consequences, followed by beliefs about consequences to others. Beliefs about consequences to self (self-interest) is the factor that explains the least variation in support for fuel taxation. The academically interesting result that support cannot be well explained without capturing a broad range of motivational factors is also highly policy relevant. It implies that there is no magic formula for increasing public support for environmental taxes. There are, however, some issues which can be addressed: trust in how well the government spends the revenue, and the perception that taxation does very little to change behaviour and thus to reduce environmental problems.

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