Do Fuel Taxes Face Ideological or Economic Opposition? Evidence from Voting on Proposition 6 and Lessons for Policymaking

Fuel taxes play a dual role. They create incentives for drivers to reduce fuel use or switch to more fuel efficient or alternative fuel vehicles, and they provide most of the earmarked infrastructure funding in the U.S. Yet, they also face strong political resistance from voters. This project seeks to unpack the political opposition to gasoline taxes, by examining how precinct-level support for California Proposition 6, which would have immediately reduced state gasoline taxes, covaries with the political ideology of voters and the economic burden of gasoline taxes. As a proxy for the latter, the research team proposes to combine public data on vehicle-miles-traveled and commuting behavior with previously purchased data on the fleet fuel economy at the census-tract level. The team will then estimate voter support of Proposition 6 as a function of different proxies for ideology and the local economic burden imposed by gasoline taxes. The project results will speak directly to the nature of the political constraints that policies like gasoline taxes face from the electorate. Where either ideological or economic opposition to fuel taxes are sufficiently strong, policymakers seeking to address environmental challenges or encourage a transition to electric vehicles might need to look towards alternative policies.

Research Area