Would Americans Favor a Gas Tax Hike?

March 2, 2006

A new CBS/NY Times poll suggests that Americans would be willing to cope with higher gas taxes, but only under certain conditions. From the New York Times:

Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to a higher federal gasoline tax, but a significant number would go along with an increase if it reduced global warming or made the United States less dependent on foreign oil, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

The nationwide telephone poll, conducted Wednesday through Sunday, suggested that a gasoline tax increase that brought measurable results would be acceptable to a majority of Americans.

Eighty-five percent of the 1,018 adults polled opposed an increase in the federal gasoline tax, suggesting that politicians have good reason to steer away from so unpopular a measure. But 55 percent said they would support an increase in the tax, which has been 18.4 cents a gallon since 1993, if it did in fact reduce dependence on foreign oil. Fifty-nine percent were in favor if the result was less gasoline consumption and less global warming. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points. (Full Story)

Given that the original question of favorability toward a general gas tax hike was asked, the second question is based on a false premise, making it misleading to the respondent. Here’s why:

Regardless of the definition of “dependence on foreign oil,” there is nothing substantive in asking a second question about whether respondents would support a gas tax if it reduced our “dependence on foreign oil.” If you define “dependence on foreign oil” as the percentage of oil that comes from other countries (compared to domestic production), then a higher gas tax at the pump is not going to reduce that number at all. That tax would apply to all oil, whether it comes from Texas or Iran, meaning the percentage “dependency” will not change.

On the other hand, if you measure “dependency on foreign oil” by the actual amount of oil coming in from other countries, then of course you will be reducing your dependence on foreign oil. But that would also be reducing our “dependence” on Alaskan oil or Texas oil. You would merely get lower oil consumption period, regardless of the location from which it comes. And you would get that same result from the general gas tax posed in the original question, where respondents overwhelmingly (85 percent) said no.


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