In California and elsewhere, when people are asked if they are willing to pay higher energy costs or higher taxes to fight climate change, they usually say no. A newly reported poll in Ventura County, California confirms this.

The Ventura County Board of Supervisors commissioned a poll gauging the public’s support for a ballot initiative imposing a sales tax increase of one-quarter of one percent to address climate change and related issues. The number of survey participants supporting the tax increase was less than the two-thirds that would be necessary to approve a ballot initiative.

Supervisor Steve Bennett, one of the three members of the five person County Board who voted in favor of conducting the poll, noted when people actually vote on sales tax measures the numbers voting in support of the taxes go down even lower than the number who say they support the tax when polled. As a result, Bennett said he was against putting the tax on the ballot, “The numbers go down in real life,” Bennet told the Ventura Country Star.

This result should surprise no one. Just up the left coast from California, in Washington state, voters in one of the bluest states with among the most progressive voting bases, have in two separate elections rejected in initiatives to impose a tax on carbon dioxide emissions to fight climate change.

And public opinion polls consistently show climate change ranks at or near the bottom of people’s public policy concerns. When asked how much they would pay to fight climate change, even when they think it will cause near-term catastrophe, the answer is consistently ‘not very much.’ For instance, an August 2019 public opinion survey conducted by the Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation included the views of kids as young as 13 and found that 60 percent survey respondents believed the world had less than 10 years to prevent the worst effects of climate change. Yet a majority of those same respondents said they would be “somewhat” or “strongly” opposed to paying a $2 monthly tax on U.S. residential electric bills to pay for the fight against climate change. Similarly, 61 percent would reject a 10-cents-per-gallon increase in the gasoline tax to fight climate change. Higher taxes and higher energy costs gained even less support. Notably, 57 percent opposed adding to the national debt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

People may be worried about climate, but they are far more concerned about many other things with more direct impacts on their lives. When it comes to prioritizing their tax payments, energy costs, and personal expenditures, most people don’t support spending more money to fight climate change.

Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. (hburnett@heartland.org) is a senior fellow on energy and the environment at The Heartland Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research center headquartered in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. is managing editor of Environment & Climate News and a research fellow for environment and energy policy at The Heartland Institute. Burnett worked at the National Center for Policy Analysis for 18 years, most recently as a senior fellow in charge of NCPA’s environmental policy program. He has held various positions in professional and public policy organizations, including serving as a member of the Environment and Natural Resources Task Force in the Texas Comptroller’s e-Texas commission.

1 COMMENT

  1. I don’t think that this poll would deter CA state legislators a bit — the Democrats, of course, hold a supermajority in both houses AND the governorship, so they will continue to do whatever they darned well please, and they never, ever met a tax they didn’t like. Ventura County, of course, is a bit more conservative politically than the big cities that control the state (LA, SF, Sacramento, San Jose) but still somewhat purplish. I escaped from CA a couple of years ago because I couldn’t afford to retire there, and moved to WA where I encountered pretty much the same thing — in both WA and OR the legislatures and governors are Democrat-controlled (mostly by Seattle and Portland, respectively) and feel quite free to ignore the will of the people, even, in the case of WA, suing the electorate over a passed initiative that went against their wishes. And our beloved (not!) Governor Inslee has just signed into law a Cap and Trade law that will add roughly 57 cents for every gallon of gasoline (and will, of course, accomplish NOTHING except to line the pockets of the powers that be.

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