April 8, 2019

Poll Watch: Taxes, Taxes, Taxes

We're a week away form the annual tax deadline (yes, it's next Monday, honest!) and it seems we Americans are not of the same mind on things.

Oh sure, I think it's pretty safe to say most of us would prefer to pay less than we do, no matter if we're rich, poor or somewhere in between. And I think we'd prefer that we didn't have so many layers of taxation - income taxes (federal, many states and even some municipalities); sales taxes; property taxes; use taxes; and on and on the list goes.

However, a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, released last week, shows we are hunkering down in our respective partisan corners on this issue:
As the April 15 tax deadline approaches, overall public views of the fairness of the nation's tax system have changed only modestly since 2017, before passage of major tax legislation. However, partisan differences on tax fairness have increased considerably since then and are now wider than at any point in at least two decades. 
That's right: while the percentage of folks saying the present system is "not too fair/not fair at all" compared to those who think it is "very fair/moderately fair" is 52% to 46% - a notable change from 2018 when it was 58%  to 41% - the percentage breaks very differently by by party:

What else does the poll tell us?

First, before I forget, the small print:  the survey was taken of 1,503 adults between March 20 - 25.

OK.  Speaking specifically of Trump's Christmas Tax Bill, the outcome is similar - there's a strong partisan divide.
  • Overall, 49% disapprove and 36% approve; that compares to 46% and 37% respectively in January of last year, before any of the impacts were felt. 
  • Republicans or those leaning Republican, overwhelmingly approve: 71% to 13%, although that's down a bit from 2018 (75% to 11%).
  • Democrats and those leaning Dem? That's a different story: 79% disapprove today, with 10% approving; that disapprove number is up 6 % from the 2018 survey.
  • And, the percentage of Dems who very strongly disapprove, at 59%, is much higher than the percentage of Republicans who very strongly approve (43%).
We're pretty frustrated with the darn tax system, too.  Take a look at what's pushing our buttons:

82% at are least somewhat bothered by some corporations not paying their fair share; I mean, when we get bombarded with the news that Amazon pays zero two years in a row, it's hard not to be upset at least a little.  Almost the same percentage think that's the case with some wealthy people too - that they just don't pay enough. That, too, was not very surprising.

I was surprised a little by percentage of people who are at least somewhat bothered about the poor not paying their fare share. I honestly thought it would be than higher than 40%, given what I see in the right-leaning news, and frequently on social media, too.

And again, when you look at the breakdown by party on who we think isn't paying their fair share (based on the percentage of people 'bothered a lot" by the issue), party affiliation plays a role.
  • 79% of Dems/leaning Dem believe corporations don't pay enough, while only 42% of Republicans/leaning Rep think this is the case.
  • Similarly, 79% of Dems/leaning Dem believe the wealthy don't pay enough, while only 37% of Rep/leaning Rep think that's the case. 
  • Finally, on the poor not pulling their weight, 21% of the R/leaning R think that's true, while only 12% of the D/leaning D think that's true. 
The last two things we'll look at from this poll? Corporate profits, and overall tax 'fairness.'
  • There's no surprise that a majority of us - 56% - think that corporations make too much profit, vs. the 39% who think that corporate profits are "fair and reasonable" or that the Ds (72%) are more prone to thinking this is true than are the Rs (38%). 
  • On the question of whether our economic system "unfairly favors powerful interests" or "is generally fair to most Americans," the partisan divide rears its ugly head one more time. Overall, by 63% - 34%, we think the system is skewed towards the powerful and not most of us. 40% of the R/lean R group think it favors the powerful, with 56% thinking it's fair to most of us. But the D/lean D gang? 81% think it's all about the powerful and only 17% think it's fair.
If you are a candidate or potential candidate for the 2020 presidential race, I think you need to look at these numbers and start trying to figure out what you might be able to do to correct some of this imbalance. And I don't mean just talking about Jeff Bezos and Amazon and whatnot, I mean coming up with policies, not just soundbites that say he shouldn't be that rich and neither should his company. 

I mean, honestly, what is a "fair and reasonable" corporate profit, and how would it be calculated? I suspect that number is different based on who's doing the calculation and who the particular audience is - and yet, more than half of us seem to think this is an issue. Addressing that might be a bigger challenge than trying to address the 'pay their fair share' thing.

If you're currently in Congress, particularly in the House with a majority, you should definitely be working on some kind of tax reform legislation - hopefully something that doesn't merely demand that rich people pay more. Why? Because we know no matter how carefully a new tax proposal is written, if the loopholes from the current tax code, and years worth of prior loopholes, aren't closed, the rich aren't going to be paying anywhere near as much tax as politicians think they will. 

My hope? Whatever we come up with moves us all closer together, rather than even farther apart. 

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