Fast track or Slo-Mo? Public support and temporal preferences for phasing out fossil fuel cars in the United States

Adrian Rinscheid, Silvia Pianta, Elke U. Weber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Policies to phase out fossil fuel cars are key to averting dangerous and irreversible changes to the earth’s climate. Given the potential impacts of such policies on every-day routines and behaviours, the factors that might increase or decrease their public acceptance require investigation. Here we study the role of specific policy design features in shaping Americans’ preferences for policy proposals to phase out fossil fuel cars. In light of the urgency of action against climate change, we are specifically interested in citizens’ preferences with respect to the timing of phase-out policies. Based on a demographically representative sample of 1,520 American residents rating 24,320 hypothetical policy scenarios in a conjoint experiment, we find that Americans prefer phase-out policies to be implemented no later than 2030. Policy features other than timing are also important: higher policy costs significantly reduce public support; subsidies for alternative technologies are preferred over taxes and bans; and policy co-benefits in terms of pollution reduction increase public support only when they are substantial. The study also investigates the role of individual characteristics in shaping policy preferences, finding that perceived psychological distance of climate change and party identification influence policy preferences. The results of this study have important implications for the political feasibility of rapid decarbonization initiatives like the ‘Green New Deal’ that are now being discussed in the US and beyond. Among these is the insight that smart sequencing of policies (early implementation of subsidies for low-emission technologies, followed by tax increases and/or bans) might help ensure majority support for a fossil fuel car phase-out. Key Policy Insights On average, respondents prefer policies to phase out fossil fuel cars to take effect no later than 2030. Party identification and perceived psychological distance of climate change influence timing preferences for phase-out policies. On average, subsidies for low-emission alternatives find higher public support than hard regulations, such as increases of fossil fuels taxes and bans on new fossil fuel cars sales. Smart sequencing of subsidies for alternative technologies and hard regulations should help increase the public acceptance of a phase-out of fossil-fuel cars.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)30-45
Number of pages16
JournalClimate Policy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


  • Decarbonization
  • climate change policies
  • conjoint experiment
  • fossil fuel vehicles
  • phase-out
  • temporal preferences


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