When will people pay to pollute? Environmental taxes, political trust and experimental evidence from Britain

Publication type

Journal Article

Published in

British Journal of Political Science


Malcolm Fairbrother

Publication date


This article presents results from survey experiments investigating conditions under which Britons are willing to pay taxes on polluting activities. People are no more willing if revenues are hypothecated for spending on environmental protection, while making such taxes more relevant to people – by naming petrol and electricity as products to which they will apply – has a modestly negative effect. Public willingness increases sharply if people are told that new environmental taxes would be offset by cuts to other taxes, but political distrust appears to undermine much of this effect. Previous studies have argued that political trust shapes public opinion with respect to environmental and many other policies. But this article provides the first experimental evidence suggesting that the relationship is causal, at least for one specific facet: cynicism about public officials’ honesty and integrity. The results suggest a need to make confidence in the trustworthiness of public officials and their promises more central to conceptualizations of political trust.

Volume and page numbers

49, 661-682






Politics, Public Opinion, Psychology, Geography, Social Capital, Taxation, Surveys and Social Behaviour