AEI Special Poll Report: Taxes, April 2014

The major pollsters haven’t asked many questions about taxes or tax reform in the past year. Sadly, only a few have updated major trends. We have no new questions for example on what people think is the worst tax they pay. Nor do we have many new questions on the importance of tax reform. After a flurry of polling activity around the time the story broke about the IRS targeting specific groups for special scrutiny, there have been hardly any questions about the IRS. 

This report looks at some major trends on tax issues. For those interested in our longer historical AEI Public Opinion Study on taxes, read it here

Perhaps the pollsters’ lack of interest stems from the relatively low level of interest the public itself shows in taxes or tax reform. In January, four major pollsters asked people about priorities for the President and Congress. In none of these questions did taxes (described in different ways such as reforming the tax system or taxes) rank in the top five. In most of these polls, it ranked somewhere in the middle. In Pew’s question from January 2014, for example, 55 percent said tax reform should be a top priority for the president and Congress. As a top priority, the issue ranked ninth out of the 20 Pew examined. The top issue was the economy, cited by 80 percent. In January 2013, 52 percent ranked tax reform as a top priority. 

Does the lack of interest indicate that people are satisfied with the federal income taxes they pay? In one of the longest trends we have, people are more divided than in the past about whether their federal income taxes are too high or about right. In the past, most people said their federal income taxes were too high. We also include here a question Gallup updated in January this year about satisfaction with the federal income taxes most Americans pay. 

In another interesting trend, Gallup finds that the proportion believing that upper income people pay too little is still a solid majority (61 percent). But in 1992, when Gallup first asked the question, 77 percent gave that response. The number saying lower income people pay too little has risen from 2 percent to nearly 20 percent in the same period, with most of the increase coming after 2008.  

Polls on President Obama’s handling of taxes are few and far between. We show in this document these questions and the overall approval questions asked at the same time. They generally move in tandem, but his marks on handling taxes are usually lower. Neither party has a clear advantage on handling taxes in the few recent polls that have asked the question. The bipartisan polling team of Lake Research and the Tarrance Group (working with George Washington University/Battleground poll) shows that the GOP has an advantage on “holding the line” on taxes, but not on taxes in general.

We have a couple of new questions asking people how much of every tax dollar collected by Washington is wasted, and the latest mean response, from a September 2013 Reason-Rupe survey, is 60 cents.     

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