PRINCETON, NJ -- A new Gallup Poll finds 48% of Americans saying the amount of federal income taxes they pay is "about right," with 46% saying "too high" -- one of the most positive assessments Gallup has measured since 1956. Typically, a majority of Americans say their taxes are too high, and relatively few say their taxes are too low.
These results are based on the Gallup Economy and Personal Finance poll, conducted each April, including April 6-9 of this year.
Since 1956, there has been only one other time when a higher percentage of Americans said their taxes were about right -- in 2003, when 50% did so after two rounds of tax cuts under the Bush administration.
The slightly more positive view this year may reflect a public response to President Barack Obama's economic stimulus and budget plans. He has promised not to raise taxes on Americans making less than $250,000, while cutting taxes for lower- and middle-income Americans. The latter has already begun, as the government has reduced the withholding amount for federal income taxes from middle- and lower-income American workers' paychecks.
In this year's poll, slim majorities of both lower- and middle-income Americans say they pay about the right amount of taxes, while upper-income Americans tend to think they pay too much. The views of upper-income Americans have not changed in the past year, while both middle- and lower-income Americans are more likely to say they pay the right amount of tax.
As is usually the case, there are partisan differences in views of taxes -- most Democrats think the taxes they pay are about right, while most Republicans say their taxes are too high. Independents are about evenly divided. Compared with last year, each group is slightly more likely to say its taxes are about right.
Six in 10 Continue to Say Taxes are Fair
The poll also finds 61% of Americans saying they regard the income taxes they have to pay this year as fair. There has been very little change on this measure in the last six years.
Generally speaking, Americans seem to take a more positive view of their taxes when the country is at war. From 1997 through 2001, the percentage saying their taxes were fair ranged from 45% to 51%. In early 2002, after the United States had begun military operations in Afghanistan in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, 58% said their taxes were fair. After the Iraq war began in 2003, the percentage increased to 64%, and it has been above 60% ever since.
Going back even further, Gallup asked the same question in the 1940s. While the country was still fighting World War II, 85% or more of Americans said the taxes they paid were fair. The first postwar measurement, in 1946, saw this percentage tumble to 62%.
As the remaining U.S. tax filers prepare to send their income-tax returns before the April 15 deadline, Gallup finds Americans' views of their federal income taxes about as positive as at any point in the last 60 years. This may reflect the income-tax cut that was part of the $787 billion economic stimulus plan, as well as a continuing sense of patriotism with the country fighting two wars.
Obama has promised not to raise taxes on all but the wealthiest Americans. There are concerns that his proposed budget relies too much on borrowed money, and the president may be forced to raise taxes on a greater percentage of Americans, or to scale back his plans to reform the healthcare system and invest in education and alternative energy.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,027 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted April 6-9, 2009. 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.