Politics

Americans Oppose Eliminating Income Tax Deductions

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Opposition high even when framed as part of plans to lower tax rates or reduce deficit

PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans make it clear they want to keep common federal income tax deductions, regardless of whether the proposed elimination of those deductions is framed as part of a plan to lower the overall income tax rate or as a way to reduce the federal budget deficit. No more than one in three Americans favor eliminating any of the deductions in either scenario.

Would you favor or oppose eliminating each of the following tax deductions as part of a plan to [lower the overall federal income tax rate/reduce the federal budget deficit]? April 2011 results

The results are based on a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted April 13. Half of respondents were asked about eliminating the deductions as part of a plan to lower the overall tax rate and the other half were asked about eliminating the same deductions to reduce the federal budget deficit. The questions evoke similar levels of opposition to eliminating the deductions.

Budget plans that call for lower overall tax rates, such as the one proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan, would essentially require that popular deductions be eliminated, basically trading off one tax break for another. President Obama's commission on deficit reduction last December called for eliminating deductions, including the one for mortgage interest, as part of its plan (ultimately rejected) to reduce the federal budget deficit.

Americans are somewhat more likely to be opposed to eliminating the deduction for charitable contributions than those for mortgage interest and state and local taxes. Roughly 7 in 10 oppose eliminating the charity deduction, compared with about 6 in 10 who oppose getting rid of the mortgage interest and state and local tax deductions.

Many Americans Do Not Claim Deductions

If any of those deductions were taken away, substantial minorities of Americans would see no impact on their taxes, according to the poll. The percentage claiming any of the three deductions ranges from 43% for mortgage interest to 58% for state and local taxes.

Please tell me whether you, personally, claim each of the following deductions on your federal income tax return. April 2011 results

As might be expected, those who claim each of these deductions are more likely to oppose eliminating them than are those who do not claim the deduction. But even among the latter group, opposition approaches or exceeds 50%.

More than three-quarters of Americans who claim either the mortgage interest deduction or the charitable contribution deduction oppose eliminating those deductions. Opposition is somewhat lower to eliminating the state and local tax deduction among those who claim it.

Favor/Oppose Eliminating Tax Deductions, by Whether Respondent Claims That Deduction; April 2011 Results

Politically, Republicans are more likely to oppose eliminating the mortgage interest deduction than are Democrats or independents. Party differences are narrower in terms of the deductions for charitable gifts and state and local taxes paid.

Favor/Oppose Eliminating Tax Deductions, by Political Party; April 2011 Results

Implications

As Congress and the president make deficit reduction a higher priority for the federal budget, Americans show solid opposition to eliminating common tax deductions. Opposition is high regardless of whether the elimination is designed to help lower the overall tax rate or reduce the deficit. This is the case even as Americans' concern about the budget deficit is increasing.

That means political leaders who favor getting rid of deductions as a way of reaching other fiscal goals likely would face a difficult challenge in getting the public to back that approach. The poll makes it clear that how the issue of eliminating tax deductions is framed makes little difference in how Americans respond to the idea.

The challenge is further complicated by the high levels of opposition to eliminating tax deductions among Americans who do not personally benefit from them, a group that in theory could be supportive since such moves would be unlikely to affect them directly.

Survey Methods

Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted April 13, 2011, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 1,004 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 491 national adults in Form C and 513 national adults in Form D, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phones numbers are selected using random digit dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone-only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Polls conducted entirely in one day, such as this one, are subject to additional error or bias not found in polls conducted over several days.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.

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