PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans' perceptions of the taxes paid by those with lower incomes have shifted in the past year. Now, 41% say lower-income people are paying their "fair share" of federal taxes, up from 32% last year. At the same time, the percentage who believe lower-income Americans are paying "too much" in taxes has dropped from 51% to 39%.
This marks a new low in perceptions that lower-income people are paying too much in taxes going back to 1992, when Gallup first asked the question. The percentage saying lower-income people pay their fair share is the highest since 1994.
The changes may reflect a response to Barack Obama's plans for federal income taxes. Obama has promised to cut taxes for low- and middle-income Americans, while raising taxes only on the wealthiest Americans. Most working Americans have already begun to receive a tax cut through lower withholding amounts in their paychecks -- a provision in the recently passed economic stimulus package.
Americans are still most likely to say that middle-income people pay their fair share of taxes, as they have in six of the last seven years. Now, 50% hold this view. Meanwhile, just 23% say upper-income taxpayers pay their fair share, while 60% say they pay too little.
There has been virtually no change in Americans' perceptions of middle-income taxpayers' contributions over the past year. But the 50% who say they are paying their fair share remains on the high end of what Gallup has found historically. Prior to 2003 and the income-tax cuts enacted under George W. Bush, Americans were more likely to say middle-income Americans paid too much in taxes.
Americans have consistently said that upper-income people pay too little in taxes. But with Obama promising to increase taxes on those earning $250,000 or more per year to help pay for his domestic policy agenda, the percentage of Americans who hold this view has dipped slightly to 60%, the lowest percentage Gallup has found to date. There has been a slight bump up in the percentage who now say upper-income people pay too much, to a new high of 13%.
Income and Party Differences in Perceptions of Taxes Paid
Americans' views of the taxes paid by middle-income people are similar regardless of their own income situation -- roughly half of each income group thinks middle-class Americans pay their fair share in taxes. There is also much consensus that upper-income Americans pay too little in taxes, but those with annual household incomes of $75,000 or greater are somewhat less likely to say this.
The greatest variation by household income is observed in perceptions of the taxes lower-income people pay. Half of those in the lowest income bracket think lower-income people pay too much in taxes, while a slim majority of those in the highest income bracket believe lower-income people are paying their fair share. Americans in the middle-income bracket are about equally divided in their views as to whether lower-income people pay their fair share or too much taxes.
The greatest partisan differences, on the other hand, are seen in perceptions of the taxes upper-income Americans pay. Democrats (79%) are more than twice as likely as Republicans (38%) to say upper-income people pay too little taxes. As many Republicans say upper-income people pay their fair share of taxes as say they pay too little.
Additionally, most Democrats say lower-income people pay too much in taxes, but the greatest number of independents and Republicans say they pay their fair share.
As was the case with income, there are virtually no partisan differences in views of the taxes middle-income people pay.
Obama promised to take an economic approach different from Bush's, in hopes of reviving the economy. And while Obama has only begun to fulfill his promises of cutting taxes for the middle class and raising taxes on those earning $250,000 or more, Americans' views about the taxes different income groups pay have already shifted.
By this time next year, Obama's first budget will be in effect and he will have begun to implement his tax policy, and Americans' opinions on the fairness of taxes that different income groups pay may change further.
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.