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Transportation infrastructure such as highways and bridges requires upgrades and maintenance. In many U.S. regions, these requirements have surpassed current funding, so new solutions are needed. One obvious though imperfect source is gasoline taxes, but raising these is politically risky, regardless of need. To illuminate this conflict, we analyze data from four random-sample telephone surveys (2016–2018, n = 2,035) that asked residents in the U.S. state of New Hampshire about their perceptions of highway and bridge conditions, and support for gas tax increases. About one third of the respondents counterfactually reported that highway and bridge conditions had improved compared with 10 or 20 years ago. At the county level, subjective perceptions correlate well with actual pavement and bridge conditions. Majorities of respondents also said they would support tax increases of 5 of 10 cents, although support falls off at higher amounts. Support for a tax increase varies not only with the proposed amount, but also with individual characteristics—especially political identity. In a structural equation model, infrastructure perceptions serve as an intervening variable between ideology and tax support: if infrastructure is falsely seen as improving, that supports an ideologically favored rejection of taxes. Partisan differences in perceptions of physical conditions, noted previously in other domains such as climate change, pose an unexpected challenge in building public support for transportation infrastructure.
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Fogg, Linda M.; Hamilton, Lawrence C.; and Bell, Erin S., "Views of the Highway: Infrastructure Reality, Perceptions, and Politics" (2020). SAGE Open. 930.