Voter Psychology and the Carbon Tax

47 Pages Posted: 11 Feb 2017 Last revised: 8 Jan 2018

See all articles by Gary Lucas, Jr.

Gary Lucas, Jr.

Texas A&M University School of Law

Date Written: February 10, 2017


Economists across the political spectrum argue that a carbon tax is the most effective and economically efficient policy for addressing climate change. Voters, however, strongly oppose the carbon tax and instead favor “green” subsidies and command-and-control regulations. If carefully designed, these policies might complement a carbon tax, but by themselves, they will make global warming mitigation incredibly expensive and perhaps even infeasible. Moreover, if poorly designed, subsidies and regulations can be counterproductive.

This Article argues that the public dislikes the carbon tax because the tax possesses attributes that make it psychologically unappealing relative to other climate policy instruments. The Article also argues that even if carbon tax proponents eventually persuade voters to accept a carbon tax, voters are biased in favor of particular design features that would make the tax less efficient. The Article discusses ways to overcome the problems that voter psychology creates. These include a communications strategy designed to combat voter bias and the controversial proposition that bureaucrats, who are somewhat insulated from public pressure, might adopt a carbon tax administratively. The Article also contributes to the burgeoning literature on how voter psychology affects the law and public policy.

Keywords: carbon tax, climate change, global warming, voter psychology, behavioral public choice, debiasing

JEL Classification: D62, D72, H23, Q54

Suggested Citation

Lucas, Jr., Gary, Voter Psychology and the Carbon Tax (February 10, 2017). 90 Temple Law Review 1 (2017), Texas A&M University School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 17-18, Available at SSRN: or

Gary Lucas, Jr. (Contact Author)

Texas A&M University School of Law ( email )

1515 Commerce St.
Fort Worth, TX 76102
United States

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