Majority of Those Who Pay No Income Taxes Believe the Tax System is Fair

That’s the way I interpret the result of the Gallup poll that found that the American people have the most positive view of the income tax that they’ve had at any time since 1956:

PRINCETON, NJ — A new Gallup Poll finds 48% of Americans saying the amount of federal income taxes they pay is “about right,” with 46% saying “too high” — one of the most positive assessments Gallup has measured since 1956. Typically, a majority of Americans say their taxes are too high, and relatively few say their taxes are too low.

When you examine the details of the polling method you realize they polled adults. All adults. Not adults who paid income taxes. The number of Americans who have zero income tax liability is the highest it’s been in over a half century.

If the sample used in the poll was really representative of Americans generally, that means that nearly 40% of those polled pay no income taxes. Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming preponderance of these believe that they’re paying a fair amount.

What do Americans who actually pay income tax think of the fairness of the present system? The world may never know.

15 comments… add one
  • I accept the need to pay taxes, and I do pay taxes. Obviously I’d like the amount to be a bit smaller, but I don’t see it as unfair.

    I’m far more irritated, frankly, by the complexity of it all.

  • I have no idea whether the amount we’re paying is fair or unfair and I honestly don’t know how anyone could possibly know.

    My point in this post is simply to point out that the poll is not particularly meaningful. And you certainly can’t draw the conclusions that so many Left Blogosphere bloggers seem to be taking away.

    On the subject of complexity I’d favor a constitutional amendment requiring that all tax bills have expiration dates of no more than 30 years, non-renewable. The fundamental problem is that the income tax inevitably develops accretions over the years.

  • It’s nonsense to say that a large number of Americans have “zero income tax liability” when every working American pays FICA taxes, which are based on income, and only not called “income taxes” because we don’t feel like calling them income taxes.

  • “Income tax” has a meaning, Alex. It doesn’t include FICA. That’s the law, which you should know well enough. Additionally, I’m quite sure that if you asked most Americans about income tax they wouldn’t include FICA AKA “payroll tax”.

    All taxes are income taxes in some sense: sales tax, property taxes. They’re all based on income at some level. But we don’t call them income taxes.

  • Dave, yes, technically FICA are not income taxes. But they are (a) a tax as a percentage of income and (b) while de jure they are a set aside, de facto they go into the general revenue fund. If it looks like a duck…

  • No. You’re talking mathematics and I’m talking politics. The income tax and the payroll tax are distinguished politically and the poll was about the income tax.

  • It’s very subjective. When I think I’m paying for necessary government action I can live with a relatively high number. When I’m shoveling money into the ocean I get a bit more pissy.

  • The point I’m making in this post isn’t about the fairness of the income tax. It’s that you can’t draw the conclusions that they’re drawing from the data they’re using.

    What’s changed is that a smaller percentage of the population is paying income taxes. If you only polled those who paid income taxes, IMO it would be a better barometer of national attitudes towards the tax. Otherwise it’s just a poll about paying taxes.

  • PD Shaw Link

    I’m with Alex on FICA being a tax on income (as is the Self-Employment Tax), which I think is politically important because it relates most directly to the government programs which are in greatest imbalance, medical care and old-age pensions. And these are programs that primarily benefit the lower half of the income range.

    The larger issue of people’s attitudes about taxes is simply problematic to divine. I don’t think most people have a strong grasp of where the money comes from and where it goes.

  • Brett Link

    They have zero income tax liability largely because of a whole host of tax credit programs that were introduced to act as effective subsidies, as opposed to, well, actually subsidizing them (or a federal program). Blame the Earned Income Tax Credit, if you think they should be paying more net income tax.

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