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How Popular Is Cap-and-trade? It Depends.

A new Washington Post/ABC poll tries to gauge the popularity of a cap-and-trade program for carbon emissions. Ezra Klein made a graph of one notable result:


So most people would be willing to pitch in and help avert a climate crisis if it cost the just $10 per month; but raise that price tag to $25, and they're tapping out. That's good to know. (For reference, the CBO estimates that the cap portion of the House climate bill will cost about $14 per month.) But there's one aspect of this poll I wonder about. Past surveys have found that most Americans haven't the foggiest idea what cap-and-trade is or what it does. So the WaPo/ABC pollsters decided to describe the policy, and then ask people what they think. Like so:

There's a proposed system called "cap and trade." The government would issue permits limiting the amount of greenhouse gases companies can put out. Companies that did not use all their permits could sell them to other companies. The idea is that many companies would find ways to put out less greenhouse gases, because that would be cheaper than buying permits. Would you support or oppose this system?

Now, 52 percent supported the idea, and 42 percent opposed. That's fairly favorable, but the above also seems like an overly convoluted way of describing the policy. Why not just say, "Congress would set an overall limit on greenhouse-gas emissions, and then companies would have to work out for themselves the best way of meeting that limit"? Or something along those lines. You could also come up with a more scary-sounding summary, if you wanted to. But I assume different descriptions would yield vastly different poll results.

--Bradford Plumer