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Polls on taxes tend to tell us what we already know: Most of us don't like them

Politicians are always pointing to polls.

Campaigns, at both the primary and national levels, rely, sometimes (often) inordinately, on what the public thinks at a particular time.

Yes-no-maybe-polling_OrangeDukeProductions-iStock_000015766500 Photo by Orange Duke Productions/iStock

Once elected, legislative policy often is shaped to some (large) degree by which side has the higher percentage of public support.

But when it comes to taxes, the answer is pretty consistent. We tend not to like them.

We may accept that we need them to pay for government programs we like. During the ongoing budget deficit debate, Obama has cited polls indicating that most Americans want a plan that includes both spending cuts and tax increases.

But that doesn't mean we have to like them.

This attitude is nothing new.

An American Enterprise Institute study took a look at public opinion on taxes, using data from 1937 to today to compile "the most comprehensive collection of polls ever compiled on the subject of taxes."

The bottom line? Karlyn Bowman, AIE Resident Fellow, and her research assistant Andrew Rugg, found that:

In seventy years of surveys, we can find no instance in which more than a tiny percentage of Americans said the amount they paid in taxes was too low. In most polls, pluralities or majorities say the amount is too high. But there have been a few instances recently, where a plurality has said the amount they paid in federal income tax was "about right." In 2009 Gallup data, for example, 46 percent said the amount they paid was too high and 48 percent said they paid about the right amount. In 2010, 48 percent said they paid too much and 45 percent about the right amount.

Although the question isn't asked regularly, surveys suggest that the local property tax is now seen as more onerous than the federal income tax. Thirty-six percent in February-March 2003 told Kaiser/NPR/Harvard that local property tax was the tax they disliked the most, followed by 29 percent who chose the income tax. Gallup shows a substantial jump since the late 1980s in the proportion of people mentioning the local property tax as the worst or least fair tax. In their April 2005 poll, 42 percent gave that response. Twenty percent said the federal income tax was the worst tax.

Other tax poll findings included:

  • Forty-eight percent say the federal income taxes they pay are too high, while 45 say they are about right. Only 3 percent say they are too low.
  • Polls in late fall 2010 showed the public split on which party could better handle taxes. A new late March-early April 2011 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows the Republicans with a 2-point advantage on the issue.  
  • Sixty-eight percent in a new AP-GfK Roper poll said "taxes" are an extremely or very important issue to them, ranking far behind such issues as the economy and gas prices.  Forty-seven percent approve of the way President Obama is handling the tax issue, 52 percent disapprove.
  • Although Americans' preference was to not extend the Bush tax cut for those making $250,000 or more, the public supported the December tax cut compromise that extended that tax break.    

In other areas, the AEI study found that public opinion has been stable, with many Americans agreeing that the tax system needs major reforms.

You can peruse the tax polling history at your leisure. Or if you prefer an audio excerpt, Bowman recently discussed the study on the Tax Foundation's Tax Policy Podcast.

Have you ever been polled? Do you find polls in general credible? Or do you believe the old saying that figures don't lie, but liars figure?

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Everyone hates them yet at the end of the day, we want all our roads, police, firefighting dept, etc....to be capable and first class.

The humor in the hypocrisy is a bit amazing

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