PRINCETON, NJ -- A new Gallup Poll finds that 68% of Americans believe their federal income taxes will be higher by the time Barack Obama's first term as president ends. This includes 35% who say their taxes will be "a lot higher."
Obama campaigned on the promise that he would raise income taxes on only the wealthiest Americans. While Americans were not necessarily convinced of that at the time -- in Gallup's final 2008 pre-election poll, 49% thought their income taxes would be higher if Obama were elected -- many more expect a tax hike now than did so during the campaign.
The rise in expectations that taxes will go up probably is a reflection on Obama's ambitious domestic agenda, which began with a $787 billion economic stimulus plan and is now focused on a roughly $1 trillion healthcare reform bill. Still, the Obama administration has made no definite plans to increase income taxes on any but the wealthiest Americans.
Despite this, even a majority of Americans in the lowest income group -- whose annual household incomes are less than $30,000 -- believe their taxes will go up. Much larger majorities of middle- and upper-income Americans expect their taxes to be raised. Part of that relationship could be explained by the fact that upper-income Americans tend to be more Republican in their party orientation.
But even Obama's political base has doubts about his being able to hold the line on income taxes -- 48% of Democrats expect their taxes to rise during his first term. More than 7 in 10 independents and 9 in 10 Republicans agree.
In a town hall meeting last week to discuss healthcare reform, a questioner asked President Obama how he would pay for his plan without raising Americans' taxes. Obama reiterated his pledge not to raise taxes on all but the wealthiest Americans -- those making above $250,000 a year. But like that town hall questioner, most Americans remain skeptical that the administration can pay for healthcare reform and its other programs without raising their taxes.
Obama's pledge not to raise income taxes on average Americans evokes former president George H.W. Bush's "no new taxes" pledge during the 1988 presidential campaign. Bush's decision to break that pledge was politically damaging and likely contributed to his 1992 election defeat. That damage occurred even though, as in the case of Obama, most Americans expected during the early part of Bush's presidency that he would not be able to avoid raising taxes. Thus, Bush appears to have been harmed not by his decision to raise taxes as much as by his not being able to live up to his campaign pledge.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,010 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Aug. 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 ±4 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.