Here’s a new study: Two groups are asked to choose between two identical plane tickets, one of which is slightly more expensive. Group A learns that the pricier ticket includes a “carbon tax.” Group B is told that the pricier ticket includes a “carbon offset.” Same policy, different names.
What happens? The second “offset” group not only sprung for the pricier object, but also suggested making the offset mandatory. In Group A, only self-identified Democrats were willing to pay the tax.
What does this mean?
Bradford Plumer at The Vine concludes: “Labels really do matter.” Undeniably so. His commenter says it proves Democrats are smarter about money since they weren’t fooled by the labels. Eh, not going there.
My take is that this is an interesting study whose real-world implications can be overstated. The term “cap and trade,” you notice, does not include the world tax. So conservatives, applying the rules of alliteration and creative destruction to this term, swapped the “trade” for “tax.” And it stuck! When you Google the phrase “cap and tax” you get 5.9 million returns. The first two hits are actually an op-ed in the Washington Post, for heavens sake. “Cap and trade” spits out 2.5 million results. That’s not definitive evidence that cap-and-traders have lost the PR war. It’s only evidence that in the real world there is no such thing as a control group. Messaging matters, but labels are liquid.