Public Opinion on Taxes: 1937 to Today

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Billionaire Warren Buffett meets with President Obama in the Oval Office on July 04, 2010.

Article Highlights

  • Occupy Wall Street has failed to change attitudes; taxing the rich or tax reform appear not to be key issues for voters

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  • Be sure to check out this report on public opinion towards taxes by @AEI.

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AEI Public Opinion Study on Taxes, 2012

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Today, AEI releases its annual compilation of polls on attitudes toward taxes. This AEI Public Opinion Study looks at attitudes since the first questions were asked in the mid-1930s to today. The highlights this year:

 * It does not appear that taxing the rich or tax reform will be key issues for voters this fall. Occupy Wall Street has done little to change attitudes toward taxing the rich, with long-standing support toward taxing them more remaining strong. On a related point, polls show solid support for the Buffett Rule. 

 * In questions asked by the Roper Organization between 1972 and 1992, between 72 and 80 percent said “high-income families” pay too little in taxes. In 1992, Gallup started asking whether “upper-income people” pay too little, too much, or the right amount in federal taxes, and 77 percent said they paid too little. That response has moved downward unevenly. In 2011, 59 percent said they paid too little. Most people say what they pay in taxes is “fair” or “about right.”

 * In our new section on the flat tax, we compare attitudes when Steve Forbes made a flat tax a key part of his 1996 presidential run to attitudes about Rick Perry’s flat tax and Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan. Many people don’t have an opinion about a flat tax and generally prefer a graduated tax system. 

 * President Obama’s marks on handling taxes were high early in his presidency. They dropped in late 2011 and have recovered a little in early 2012, with various polls indicating approval ratings between 36 and 45 percent. In the only poll we’ve found that matches Obama up with Romney on the issue, 49 percent say Obama would do a better job handling taxes, with 45 percent favoring Romney.   

Karlyn Bowman is a senior fellow at AEI.

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