Survey: Americans support higher gas taxes -- really

SAN JOSE
June 28, 2016 10:09am
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•  When the money is spent on specific projects

•  “Conventional wisdom says that Americans strongly oppose any increase in the federal gas tax”


Americans are willing to pay increased taxes if the revenue is invested in specific transportation improvements, according to the results of a new San Jose State University Mineta Transportation Institute national telephone survey.

Results from the seventh year of surveys, reveal that support depends on how the tax is structured and described, with some options supported by a majority – or even a supermajority – of Americans.

This year’s results show that support for raising transportation taxes has grown over the past six years.

“Conventional wisdom says that Americans strongly oppose any increase in the federal gas tax,” says Asha Weinstein Agrawal, one of the authors. “However, this survey shows that more than half of Americans support a federal gas tax increase if the revenue is dedicated to improving maintenance, safety, or the environment.”

Key 2016 findings related to increasing taxes include:

• Of the ten transportation tax options tested, six had majority support.

• Linking tax increases to safety, maintenance, or environmental benefits increased support by at least ten percentage points among almost all the sociodemographic groups tested.

• Support levels varied considerably by the type of tax. When taxes were described with no information other than the tax type, a new sales tax was much more popular than either a gas tax increase or a new mileage tax.

• Looking across the seven years of survey data, support for all the taxes except the flat-rate mileage tax has risen modestly. In seven cases, support has increased by more than ten percentage points since the first year the question was asked.

Key 2016 findings specific to public transit include:

• A large majority (82 percent) said that expanding and improving transit services in their states should be a high or medium government priority.

• Only one-half of respondents knew that fares don’t cover the cost of transit, and only 29 percent knew of the federal government’s role in funding public transit.

• Two-thirds supported spending current gas tax revenues on transit, although only 41 percent supported increasing gas taxes to improve transit.

Methodology notes

The Social Science Survey Center at California State University, Fullerton, conducted the survey on behalf of the Mineta Transportation Institute’s National Transportation Finance Center. The interviewing was conducted from February 19 to March 31, 2016. A total of 1,503 adults nationwide were interviewed by telephone in either English or Spanish, with 70 (5 percent) of the interviews conducted in Spanish.

Telephone numbers included in this sample were randomly generated, and survey respondents were reached by both cell phone (40 percent) and landline phone (60 percent).

The margin of error for the total sample is ± 2.53 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. Smaller subgroups have larger margins of error.

Unless otherwise indicated, all results are weighted to match the Census Bureau’s 2014 American Community Survey one-year estimates with respect to gender, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education level, imputed income values, and age.4


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