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.






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



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