PRINCETON, NJ -- Six in 10 Americans favor Congress' passing the so-called "Buffett Rule," which would mandate a minimum 30% tax rate for Americans with a household income of $1 million or more per year. Majorities of both Democrats and independents favor the policy, while a majority of Republicans oppose it.
President Barack Obama has pushed this tax policy in recent appearances, and the U.S. Senate may vote on it next week. Few observers believe it has a chance of passing the Republican-controlled House to become law before the end of the year.
The proposed legislation was informally dubbed the "Buffett Rule" after billionaire investor Warren Buffett asserted that he should not be allowed to pay a lower tax rate than his secretary. Gallup's question about the proposal, included in its April 9-12 Economy and Personal Finance survey, asked if "households earning $1 million a year or more" should pay a minimum of 30% of their income in taxes. The actual law the Senate will vote on would include more complex "phase in" clauses for those making between $1 and $2 million per year.
Given President Obama's persistent emphasis this year on the need to increase taxes on higher-income Americans, and his adoption of a "fair share, fair shot, equal playing rules" campaign theme, it is not surprising to see that Democrats favor the Buffett Rule by almost a three-to-one ratio. More than six in 10 independents, a critically important group in an election year, favor the law. Republicans oppose the law by an 11-point margin, with 54% against and 43% in favor.
Americans in general say that the distribution of money and wealth in this country is not fair, and that money and wealth should be more evenly distributed. Plus, 59% of Americans last year agreed that households making $250,000 or more per year should pay higher taxes. The current results reinforce these findings and underscore the now well-documented conclusion that Americans in general support various proposals for increasing taxes on higher-income Americans.
Gallup's surveys do not allow the isolation of the very few respondents who might actually themselves make $1 million per year or more, but the more limited income categories that are defined show little variation in response to the Buffett Rule by income. A majority (55%) of those making $100,000 or more in annual household income favor the Buffett Rule, similar to the level of support from lower-income Americans.
Republican politicians oppose the Buffett Rule, and there is little possibility that it will become law this year. President Obama's intense focus on the policy and his emphasis on bringing it to a vote in Congress is thus mostly a symbolic gesture -- underscoring his general presidential campaign themes this year. An emphasis on millionaires paying higher taxes also helps position the Obama presidential campaign against his very rich GOP opponent, Mitt Romney.
Perhaps more importantly than the fate of this one policy proposal, the expiration of the Bush tax cuts at the end of this year means that unless something is done, taxes will go up for many American taxpayers. Obama is on record as saying he would let the tax cuts expire for those households making $250,000 a year and up, but would keep them in place for all others.
Although the public agrees with the idea of increasing taxes on the rich, this does not appear to be Americans' highest priority. Gallup's April measure of the most important problem facing the country shows that Americans cite the economy, jobs, dissatisfaction with government, and the deficit as the top problems, while very few (1%) mention the gap between the rich and the poor as the top problem. Previous Gallup research has also shown that Americans rate reducing the income and wealth gap between the rich and the poor as a lower priority than growing the economy more generally and increasing economic opportunity.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted April 9-12, 2012, with a random sample of 1,016 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
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 landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.
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.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit http://www.gallup.com/.