PRINCETON, NJ -- It's tax time, and 52% of Americans complain that they pay too much in federal income taxes, but 42% say they pay the right amount, and a curious 2% say they pay too little.
In fact, for all of the public's current dissatisfaction with the economy, with the direction of the United States, and with its leadership, Americans are fairly content with their federal tax obligation. According to Gallup's 2008 Economy and Personal Finance survey, conducted in April, 60% regard the amount of income tax they have to pay this year as "fair." Only 35% say it's not fair.
Additionally, more Americans believe "middle-income people" -- a group most people are likely to associate themselves with -- pay their "fair share" in federal taxes rather than "too much." By contrast, 51% believe lower-income Americans pay too much, while 63% believe upper-income people pay too little.
Interestingly, Americans' tax attitudes are almost entirely unrelated to personal income. Those living in households earning $75,000 or more annually are no more likely to believe they pay too much in taxes than are those earning less than $30,000. Similarly, Gallup finds no difference according to household income in perceptions of whether one's tax bill is fair or not.
Recent Contentment With Taxes
The public's attitudes about taxes have been fairly stable since at least 2003. Prior to that -- particularly in the 1990s -- Gallup found Americans holding much higher levels of dissatisfaction with federal taxes than are seen today.
Gallup's question on whether Americans feel their taxes are too high or too low originated in 1947. According to the recent trend, Americans are more content today with what they pay than they were from December 1994 through April 2001, when close to two-thirds typically said they paid too much.
Notably, the 10-point rise in the percentage saying their taxes were too high from April 1994 (56%) to December 1994 (66%) coincided with the 1994 midterm congressional campaign and election, in which the Republican Party championed an antitax theme in its successful "Contract With America" strategy. Dissatisfaction with taxes remained high until January 2003 -- after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and just before the start of the Iraq war -- when it dipped to 47%. It has continued to remain relatively low (with no more than 53% saying their taxes are too high) in each subsequent year. However, whether that is because of the impact on public attitudes of 9/11, of the U.S. involvement in Iraq, or of recent tax policies is unclear.
Similarly, the percentage of Americans saying the amount of taxes they will have to pay this year is "fair" has been at or above 60% since April 2003, but ranged from 45% to 58% from the late 1990s through 2002.
Even more dramatic is the shift in the percentage of Americans saying middle-income taxpayers pay their fair share. Since April 2003, no more than 47% of Americans have said that middle-income people pay too much in taxes. By contrast, from 1992 through 1999, a solid majority considered this group overtaxed.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,021 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted April 6-9, 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).
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.