Public acceptance, support of climate policies focus of study

As climate policies evolve through the legislative process, public acceptance and support may change, as well. A recent study conducted by a team of University of Maine researchers found that even though acceptance is an important process through which policy perceptions and economic ideology influence support, acceptance doesn’t always lead to support.

Through a national survey of Australian residents to better understand the role elections play in changing the public’s view on policies, the team determined acceptance and support for the country’s carbon pricing policy remained stable before and after the 2013 federal election.

Stacia Dreyer, a former Ph.D. student with the School of Economics, Department of Psychology and the Sustainability Solutions Initiative, led the study that was published online Aug. 10 in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Dreyer worked with Mario Teisl, director of the UMaine School of Economics and professor of resource economics and policy; Shannon McCoy, an associate professor of psychology at UMaine; and Iain Walker, researcher at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Floreat, Western Australia and the University of Western Australia’s School of Psychology in Crawley. Dreyer is now a research associate in the School of Marine and Environmental Affairs at the University of Washington.

The team conducted the survey to investigate acceptance of, and support for, the Australian carbon pricing policy two weeks before and two weeks after the election, and how perceptions of the policy, economic ideology and voting behavior affect acceptance and support.

Acceptance, a positive attitude toward an existing policy; and support, which adds an active behavioral component; were stable before and after the election, even though the climate policy was a highly contentious topic and despite that different policy outcomes were expected depending upon election results, according to the researchers.

Policy acceptance was higher than support at both times, and acceptance did not always lead to support, making acceptance a necessary but insufficient condition of support, and highlighting the necessity of measuring acceptance and support as two distinct concepts, the researchers say. Additionally, they found higher levels of perceived fairness and effectiveness were associated with increased levels of acceptance and support, whereas higher levels of free-market ideology were associated with decreased levels of acceptance for and support of the carbon pricing policy.

The report, “Australians’ views on carbon pricing before and after the 2013 federal election,” is online. This is the third article from Dreyer’s dissertation to be published, and the second to be published with UMaine researchers Teisl and McCoy.

Contact: Elyse Kahl, 581.3747