Expanded numbers say middle-income Americans pay fair share, those with lower incomes pay too little
PRINCETON, NJ -- With the George W. Bush-era tax cuts set to expire in December, about half of Americans (53%) believe their taxes will increase in the next year, while 41% expect no change and 3% predict a decrease. There is virtually no difference in these views by household income.
President Obama favors extending the Bush tax cuts only for "the middle class," which he has defined as individuals making less than $200,000 and married couples making less than $250,000. Households earning above these levels would see their prior, higher rates restored. However, Republicans in Congress have stood firmly against letting any of the tax cuts expire, a position that has resulted in bipartisan agreements on full but temporary extensions.
Even half of Americans in the $75,000 and higher income bracket anticipate no increase in their taxes, likely because relatively few in this group meet Obama's higher income thresholds.
At the same time, 65% of Republicans and 53% of independents are braced for higher taxes, compared with 41% of Democrats, most likely reflecting partisan biases about the president rather than income-based differences.
Americans Agree the Rich Should Pay More
Obama's tax position conforms with public attitudes about the fairness of the tax code for each income level. These views largely support raising taxes on upper-income households and maintaining the status quo for middle-income households.
Six in 10 Americans believe upper-income people -- as well as corporations -- pay too little in taxes, while the majority say middle-income people pay their fair share. Americans have more mixed views about the taxes paid by lower-income people, with 40% saying they pay too much, a third saying they pay their fair share, and 24% saying they pay too little.
A slightly higher percentage of Americans today than in 2010 believe upper-income people pay too little in taxes, but the current 62% is still lower than the levels seen for much of the period from 1992 through 2007.
Today's 56% saying middle-income people pay their fair share is up from 50% in 2011 and the highest Gallup has recorded since first asking this question in 1992, while, at 36%, the percentage saying this group pays too much is the lowest.
The plurality of Americans say lower-income people pay too much in taxes, continuing the pattern seen for most of the past two decades. However, the percentage saying they pay too little has more than doubled since 2005. In fact, more than four in 10 Republicans (43%) -- compared with 21% of independents and 10% of Democrats -- now say lower-income people pay too little, a finding that could reflect some conservatives' complaint that lower-income Americans pay no federal income taxes or get money back in tax credits.
Unless President Obama and a divided Congress come to an agreement by year's end over extending the Bush-era tax cuts, those tax breaks will expire, leaving most Americans with a higher tax bill than they now pay. While about half of Americans believe their taxes will be higher within a year, a sizable 44% believe they will not be, indicating either that they aren't aware of the sunset provision for the tax cuts or that they are confident Congress and Obama will act in time to preserve the lower rates.
As Republicans continue to resist any plan that would raise taxes on wealthy Americans, they face not only opposition from the Democrats and Obama, but the pressure of public opinion. This could be especially daunting if Republicans' attempt to extend the tax cuts for all is seen as benefiting wealthy Americans at the expense of the middle class.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted April 9-12, 2012, with a random sample of 1,016 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.
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 by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone 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 2011 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.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.