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When Will People Pay to Pollute? Environmental Taxes, Political Trust and Experimental Evidence from Britain

  • Malcolm Fairbrother

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.

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School of Geographical Sciences, Cabot Institute, Centre for Multilevel Modelling, University of Bristol (email: This article was written in large part during a sabbatical funded by the University of Bristol’s Institute for Advanced Studies. The author thanks the Understanding Society team for running the Innovation Panel experiments presented here, and is grateful to Ben Fagan-Watson for providing access to the Green Fiscal Commission data and to reports about those data not otherwise available online. Audiences at Umeå University, Örebro University, the Institute for Futures Studies, Gothenburg University and Stockholm University provided useful comments. Björn Rönnerstrand was particularly helpful; so were two anonymous BJPS reviewers and the editor. See the online appendices, available at, for the R code with which to replicate all analyses reported in the article, or All data used in this article are publicly available from the UK Data Archive at

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