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Americans Are More Positive About Their Taxes This Year

Americans Are More Positive About Their Taxes This Year

Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • 61% say their federal income tax is fair, the most since 2009
  • 51% say their taxes are too high, down from 57% last year
  • All party groups are more likely than in 2016 to say taxes are fair

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- With the deadline to file federal income taxes looming, 61% of U.S. adults regard the income tax they have to pay as fair, the most positive sentiment since 2009. A year ago, 50% held this view, which is lower than all but one other reading in Gallup's trend.

Americans' Perceptions of Income Taxes as Fair Highest Since 2009

The results are based on Gallup's annual Economy and Personal Finance survey, conducted April 5-9.

Americans' perceptions of the fairness of their taxes have varied over the years, tending to be lower in years when a Democratic president was in office and higher in years when there was a Republican president. About 50% of Americans thought their taxes were fair in the late 1990s when President Bill Clinton was in office and in early 2001 before the first round of income tax cuts passed in President George W. Bush's administration.

Between 2003 -- the year Bush passed a second round of tax cuts -- and the end of his presidency, at least six in 10 Americans believed their taxes were fair. In 2009, Barack Obama's first year as president, 61% of Americans still said their taxes were fair, but in subsequent years the figure stayed below 60%. From 2013 -- after Obama and Congress agreed to let Bush's tax cuts expire for higher-income earners -- through the end of Obama's presidential term, an average of 54% of Americans believed their taxes were fair.

Now that Republican Donald Trump is in office, the percentage saying their taxes are fair is back above 60%.

Republicans are mostly responsible for the variation in perceived income tax fairness over time. Less than half (46%) of Republicans, on average, said their taxes were fair when Clinton and Obama were in office, compared with majorities averaging 60% during the Bush and Trump administrations. Consistent majorities of Democrats have thought their taxes were fair, although more held this view under Obama than under Bush. An average of 60% of Democrats have said taxes were fair under Republican presidents compared with 64% under Democratic presidents. Independents' views also vary modestly when Democratic (54%) or Republican (58%) presidents are in office.

Republicans, Independents More Likely to Say Taxes Fair This Year

Republicans are leading the rise in perceptions of tax fairness this year, with an increase of 17 percentage points, but independents show nearly as large an increase at 13 points. Democrats show a smaller uptick of five points. The increase this year may suggest that Americans are anticipating a tax cut from Trump.

Fewer Say Taxes Are Too High

A separate question in the survey asks Americans if the amount of federal income tax they pay is too high, about right or too low. Currently, 51% describe the amount of federal tax they have to pay as "too high," down from 57% last year but similar to what it was from 2003-2015. Forty-two percent now say their taxes are "about right," with only 4% saying they are "too low."

Gallup first asked this question of national adults in 1956. Before 2003, it was not uncommon for 60% or more of Americans to say their taxes were too high, with an average of 59% expressing this view between 1956 and 2001.

Americans Are Less Likely Now Than Before 2003 to Say the Federal Income Taxes They Pay Are Too High

All major party subgroups show declines since last year in the percentage who say their federal income taxes are too high, including an 11-point decline among Republicans and five-point drops among both independents and Democrats. Overall, 62% of Republicans say their taxes are too high, as do 52% of independents and 39% of Democrats. Democrats are most likely to believe their taxes are "about right."

All Party Groups Are Less Likely Now Than in 2016 to Say Their Federal Income Taxes Are "Too High"
  2016 2017 Change
  % % pct. pts.
Too high 73 62 -11
About right 25 36 +11
Too low 1 1 0
Too high 57 52 -5
About right 38 41 +3
Too low 2 4 +2
Too high 44 39 -5
About right 45 51 +6
Too low 8 5 -3

Bottom Line

Americans' perceptions of their federal income taxes are influenced partly by the rates they are paying, which is apparent in the changes of opinion after the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. Political considerations -- namely, the party of the president -- also affect Americans' views.

Although federal income tax laws have changed very little in the past year, Americans are more likely to say their taxes are fair and less likely to say they are too high now, perhaps because a Republican president has replaced a Democratic one. Americans may feel better about their tax situation with a Republican president in office who has pledged to institute "a massive tax cut."

So far, tax policy has received less attention from the Trump administration than immigration and healthcare policy. Still, it remains a major priority for Trump, although it is unclear when he will propose new legislation. The president has reportedly abandoned the tax-cut plan he laid out during his campaign and is working with his advisers on developing a new plan. As on healthcare, the president likely cannot count on Democratic support for his legislation, so whether he succeeds in enacting tax cuts may depend on whether competing Republican factions in Congress can agree on a new policy put forth by Trump or their congressional leaders.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted April 5-9, 2017, with a random sample of 1,019 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, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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