Americans Say Federal Income Taxes Too High, But Not Unfair

by Joseph Carroll

Most Americans believe upper-income people, corporations pay too little in federal taxes

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans who have yet to file their 2006 federal income taxes will most likely spend this weekend scrambling to get their taxes finished before Monday's deadline. More than half of Americans, according to a recent Gallup Poll, say the amount of money they pay for federal income taxes is too high, but most consider their taxes to be fair. Americans are slightly more likely now than last year to say their taxes are too high, but this sentiment is not nearly as high as Gallup measured prior to 2003. A strong majority of Americans believe upper-income people and corporations pay too little in federal income taxes. Americans are more divided as to whether lower- or middle-income people pay their fair share or pay too much in taxes each year; few say these groups pay too little.

How Americans Feel About Taxes This Year

The April 2-5, 2007 poll finds 53% of Americans saying they consider the amount of federal income tax they pay as "too high," while 41% consider it "about right." Only 2% of adults interviewed consider their federal income taxes to be "too low."

Gallup has asked this question on a frequent basis since 1947. From 1947 to 2001, Americans have generally been most inclined to say their federal income taxes were too high, with an overall average of 59% across the 36 surveys. Then, beginning in 2003, Americans became much more evenly divided as to whether their federal income taxes are too high or about right. This pattern may have developed as a result of President Bush's tax cuts passed during his first term in office. In the latest poll, there has been a small shift in opinion, with slightly more Americans saying their federal income taxes are too high -- 53% share this sentiment now, compared with 48% last year, and an average of 50% from 2003 to 2005.

Even though Americans tend to say their federal income taxes are too high, they do not necessarily believe their taxes are unfair. In fact, 60% of adults regard the income taxes that they will have to pay this year as fair, while 37% say they are not fair. This measure has shown only modest variation over the past four years, and from an historical standpoint, Americans have consistently told Gallup since 1943 that their income taxes are fair. (There is one exception: In 1999, 45% of Americans said their taxes were fair, while 49% said they were not fair.)

The poll finds little variation in attitudes about federal income taxes by political affiliation, gender, or age. But, there are some variations by household income level. Sixty-two percent of Americans living in households earning $75,000 or more consider the amount they pay in taxes to be too high, a significantly higher percentage than the 54% for those earning between $30,000 and $75,000 per year, and the 43% for those earning less than $30,000 per year. Those in low-income households are equally likely to say their taxes are too high as to say they are about right.

Americans at all income levels feel the taxes they pay this year are fair.


Paying a Fair Share?

The poll also asked Americans for their views on whether people at various income levels or corporations are paying their "fair share" in federal income taxes, "paying too much," or "paying too little."

Most Americans say upper-income people (66%) and corporations (71%) are paying too little in federal income taxes; only about one in five feel upper-income people and corporations pay their fair share.

The public is almost evenly divided as to whether middle-income people are paying too much (47%) or their fair share (44%) in federal income taxes, with only 7% saying they pay too little. Americans are most likely to say lower-income people pay too much (45%) tax, with 34% saying they pay their fair share, and 17% saying too little.

There have been only modest variations in Americans' views about whether corporations, upper-income people, and lower-income people are paying their fair share of taxes. But, there has been a change in views about middle-income people.

From 1992 through 1999, Gallup consistently found that a majority of Americans -- between 54% and 59% -- said middle-income people paid too much in federal income taxes. Beginning in 2003, at the same time Americans began to view their own tax levels as about right, Americans said middle-income people paid their fair share (51%) rather than too much (40%) in federal taxes. That pattern generally persisted through 2006, but now Americans are evenly divided in their views of the taxes middle-income people pay.

Democrats (including Democratic-leaning independents) and Republicans (including Republican-leaning independents) differ significantly in their views of whether different groups in this country are paying their fair share of taxes.

  • Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to say lower-income people and middle-income people are paying too much in federal income taxes.

  • Nearly half of Republicans, 49%, believe upper-income people are paying too little in federal taxes --¬†much lower than the 79% of Democrats who say this.

  • While a majority of both Republicans and Democrats say corporations are paying too little tax, Democrats (82%) are more likely to say this than Republicans (57%).

Household income is only weakly related to views of whether people pay their fair share of taxes. Lower-income Americans are much more likely than higher-income Americans to say they pay too much; those earning less than $30,000 per year also are more likely to believe middle-income people pay too little. American households earning $75,000 or more per year are more inclined than those earning less to say upper-income people pay too much or their fair share in taxes.

Paying Their Fair Share of Taxes?
Results by Household Income Level
April 2-5, 2007

Less than
$30,000

$30,000-
$74,999

$75,000 or
more

%

%

%

Lower-income Americans

 

 

 

Fair share

25

38

38

Too much

56

43

41

Too little

14

16

19

 

 

 

Middle-income Americans

 

 

 

Fair share

45

45

44

Too much

37

50

52

Too little

15

4

4

 

 

 

Upper-income Americans

 

 

 

Fair share

13

21

27

Too much

7

7

16

Too little

74

70

56

 

 

 

Corporations

 

 

 

Fair share

17

19

22

Too much

3

4

8

Too little

73

73

68

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,008 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted April 2-5, 2007. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ¬Ī3 percentage points. 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.
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