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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Polls on Taxes: Different Questions, Different Results

As we point out in our chapter on public opinion, the wording of questions has a major impact on poll results. Taxation is a good example. Gallup reports:

Americans generally favor raising taxes on higher-income Americans and eliminating tax deductions for some corporations as ways of paying for President Obama's proposed jobs plan.

Please tell me whether you favor or oppose each of the following proposals President Obama has made to pay for the cost of the jobs bill. September 2011

At the blog of the conservative group Resurgent Republic, Jon McHenry notes a poll with a very different perspective:

To tackle the nation’s record deficits and debt, President Obama is proposing a $1.5 trillion tax increase, his so-called “Buffett rule.” It may sound at first blush to be a solid talking point to make sure investors like Warren Buffett pay the same tax rate as their secretaries, but a deeper look shows the folly of that approach (an AP fact check further debunks this premise, "Are rich taxed less than secretaries?"). Set aside for a moment the issue that government taxes things it wants less of — liberals propose increasing the gas tax in order to reduce auto emissions, or states increase the cigarette tax to reduce smoking. That’s an important consideration, and the last thing the country needs is to create disincentives to investment in a stagnate economy.

The rationale for a tax increase on investment, or on “millionaires and billionaires” — by the President’s definition, anyone earning $250,000 a year or more — falls apart politically as well. Resurgent Republic recently asked voters what they think the top tax rate should be for individuals, with voters overwhelmingly choosing a percentage that falls well short of current tax levels:

What do you think is the maximum percentage that the federal government should take from any individual’s income (ROTATE: ten percent, fifteen percent, twenty percent, thirty percent, forty percent, or fifty percent or more)?

Nearly two-thirds of voters — 65 percent overall, including 71 percent of Republicans, 62 percent of Independents, and 63 percent of Democrats — think the maximum tax rate should be twenty percent or lower. And a quarter of voters — 27 percent overall, including 26 percent of Republicans, 24 percent of Independents, and 30 percent of Democrats — think the maximum percentage should be no more than ten percent.