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When it comes to climate action, beware the policy bundle

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When it comes to climate action, beware the policy bundle

Researchers tried linking climate policy appealing to liberals with other policies popular with conservatives. The combination only lost support.
April 2, 2024

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Combining climate initiatives with other policies in an effort to increase their popularity can backfire, according to a new study.

The findings call into question the practice of “bundling” various policies together in a single piece of legislation. Legislators like this strategy because it’s efficient, and conventional wisdom says that it should make the legislation more popular overall. That is, if you link a policy popular among liberals with one popular among conservatives, the whole package will gain support from both ends of the political spectrum.

To test that idea, researchers conducted a survey of 2,251 American adults. They asked study participants whether they would support one of four different climate policies. The climate policies, which are generally more popular with liberals, were presented either on their own or paired with another initiative designed to appeal to various groups.

The “bundled” policies included infrastructure spending (which enjoys broad bipartisan popularity), pausing new environmental regulations (popular with conservatives), economic redistribution policies such as taxing the rich or expanding healthcare benefits, or social justice policies such as instituting race and gender quotas for infrastructure contracts (both more popular with liberals). All of the policies were modeled on ones that have been proposed at the state or national level.

“None of the policy bundles significantly increased support relative to decarbonization alone, either overall or among various segments of the electorate,” the researchers report in the journal Climatic Change.

 

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Pairing climate policy with either social justice policies or reducing environmental regulation reduced support for climate action. Each of these bundles garnered less support from the study participants than did climate policies on their own.

The combination of climate and social justice policies reduced support among conservatives and moderates without increasing it among liberals. Meanwhile, the combination of climate policies and pausing regulations reduced support among liberals and moderates without increasing it among conservatives.

Political polarization is often cast as something to be overcome or fought against. But the combination of climate policies and pausing regulations actually reduced polarization around climate policy – even as it made climate action less popular overall. “Crucially, decreased polarization did not lead to increased overall support,” the researchers write.

Pairing climate policies with either infrastructure spending or economic redistribution was about equally as popular as climate policy alone.

A previous study found that bundling climate and economic redistribution policies increased support for climate policy by boosting support from Democrats without turning Republicans off. The new study found a similar trend, but it wasn’t statistically significant. So it’s possible that certain policy bundles could indeed increase support for climate policy, and the combination of climate and economic redistribution in particular should be studied in more detail, the researchers say.

“We caution that our findings are not a prescription to avoid bundling various policies together,” the researchers write. “Rather, they empirically highlight some of the risks associated with policy bundling and indicate that there is much more to understand about this strategy.”

The researchers suggest that future studies could focus on a policy that is generally more popular among conservatives in order to understand the dynamics of legislative bundling in general. Studies could also test bundling of hypothetical climate policies, rather than the real-life ones included in the current study, to learn “whether there are possible policies that might have more positive effects on overall support,” they write.

Source: Marshall R. et al.Neutral and negative effects of policy bundling on support for decarbonization.” Climatic Change 2024.

Image: © Anthropocene Magazine.

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