In a bid to put the idea of carbon tax before Congress, an advocacy group released results of a survey today showing an overwhelming majority of voters are unfamiliar with the use of cap and trade for greenhouse gas emissions and that a larger number would prefer a carbon tax.
The poll, conducted by the Democratic firm Hart Research Associates and released by the U.S. Climate Task Force, showed that almost three-quarters of the public favors policies to "reduce carbon emissions that contribute to climate change" and increase the use of affordable energy sources.
But the poll highlights problems with public acceptance of the climate bill pending before the Senate and with the concept of cap and trade. Specifically, people know little about the proposal and are concerned about loopholes in the complex bureaucracy needed to implement it.
Twenty-four percent of voters said they have heard "a lot" or a "fair amount" about the cap-and-trade proposal; 35 percent say they have not heard of the plan; and 26 percent say they have heard of it but know very little about it.
After hearing a description of cap and trade -- which provides economic incentives for industries to control emissions -- 46 percent of those surveyed favor the proposal, while 46 percent are opposed.
Geoff Garin, president of Hart Research, said opponents of cap and trade generally feel more strongly about the proposal than its backers.
People surveyed likewise knew little about carbon taxes, with 26 percent saying they have heard a fair amount about them and 57 percent saying they had heard little or nothing.
But, the poll showed, when both concepts are explained, voters of all political affiliations and backgrounds favor the tax proposal by a significant margin. Sixty-six percent of Democrats prefer the carbon tax, as do 58 percent of independents and 46 percent of Republicans.
Overall, 57 percent of those surveyed say they would favor a carbon tax, while 37 percent are opposed.
The survey defined the carbon tax as ensuring the cost of "carbon pollution is reflected in the price of energy." It also stated that individuals and households would receive tax refunds to offset the impact of the tax. There were no such promises of rebates in the description of cap and trade.
The poll's designers say support for the carbon tax proposal stems from a belief that it is far simpler than cap and trade, provides a revenue steam for tax refunds to offset consumer costs of the tax, offers a more direct incentive for businesses and consumers, and is less likely to be corrupted by loopholes for certain interests.
Hart polled 1,002 registered voters nationwide in late August. The poll has an error margin of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.
Political viability at issue
A number of lawmakers and some advocacy groups have promoted a carbon tax as a more effective way of addressing climate change, but the proposal has been a political nonstarter.
But representatives of the U.S. Climate Task Force said today that the public may not have quite as much fear of a tax-based proposal as politicians believe, and that a tax plan may be more politically viable. And they pointed out that opponents have already successfully characterized the cap-and-trade proposal as a tax, meaning any policy -- regardless of its other benefits or pitfalls -- will be tagged with that label.
"At some point, there is no longer a huge political distinction here, because Republicans insist on calling cap and trade an energy tax," said Robert Shapiro, CTF chairman and a former adviser to President Clinton.
The group said it intends to use the poll and other efforts to press lawmakers into considering a carbon tax, describing it as a "plan B" for a climate bill that has hit some roadblocks.
"We are hoping this will help create momentum for plan B, the carbon tax shift, as a solution to climate change problem," said Elaine Kamarck, CTF co-chairwoman and a former adviser to Vice President Al Gore. "We're hoping that Congress and others will shift their perspective and start looking at a plan B."