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The semantics of carbon pricing ahead of 2020

A new Emerson College poll suggests that the wording around carbon pricing — whether voters support a carbon "tax" versus a carbon "fine on corporations" — could matter a lot.

Why it matters: Several 2020 White House hopefuls — including Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren — have endorsed some kind of pricing, though details are scarce.

What they found: Emerson polled slightly over 1,000 voters on Sept. 21–23.

  • The question: "Would you support or oppose a carbon tax?" The answer: 35% supported it, 27% opposed and 38% percent were unsure. (Margin of error is 4.9%.)
  • The question, posed to the other half of the group: "Would you support or oppose a fine on corporations that pollute the air with carbon dioxide?” The answer: 52% supported it, 25% opposed and 24% were unsure. (MOE is 4.3%.)

But, but, but: The level of public support for a given policy is just loosely related to its chances of advancement.

  • Needless to say, there are all kinds of detailed policy design questions beyond the scope of these 30,000-foot level questions.
  • But generally speaking, a fine on companies would probably seep through into their prices.

Go deeper: Carbon tax campaign unveils new details and backers

Editor's note: This story has been clarified to reflect that, when asked about a "carbon tax," 35% of voters polled by Emerson supported the measure and 27% opposed it.