Public support for carrot, stick, and no-government water quality policies

Adena R. Rissman, Patrice A. Kohl, Chloe B. Wardropper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Public support for environmental policy provides an important foundation for democratic governance. Numerous policy innovations may improve nonpoint source pollution, but little research has examined which types of individuals are likely to support various runoff reduction policies. We conducted a household mail survey of 1136 residents in southern Wisconsin. In general, residents were more likely to support water quality policies if they were communitarians, egalitarians, concerned about water pollution, and perceived water quality as poor. The majority of respondents somewhat to strongly supported all of the seven proposed water quality policies, but opposed relying on voluntary action without government involvement on farms. Residents had higher support for incentives and market-based approaches (carrot policies) than regulation and taxes (stick policies). A more complicated pattern emerged in within-subject comparisons of residents’ views of carrot and stick approaches. Stick approaches polarized respondents by decreasing support among people with individualistic worldviews, while slightly increasing support among people with communitarian worldviews. Residents with an agricultural occupation were more likely to support voluntary, non-governmental approaches for reducing agricultural runoff, and were also more likely to support regulation for reducing urban lawn runoff. This research highlights the dominant role of cultural worldviews and the secondary roles of water pollution concern, perceived water quality, and self-interest in explaining support for diverse policies to reduce nonpoint source pollution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)82-89
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
StatePublished - Oct 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Cultural cognition
  • Environmental policy
  • Nonpoint source pollution
  • Policy support
  • Public preferences
  • Water quality policy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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