GALLUP NEWS SERVICE
PRINCETON, NJ -- A Gallup poll conducted last weekend -- just after the highly publicized Senate hearings on Internal Revenue Service abuses -- shows that the American public does not hesitate to respond in very negative ways when asked about the IRS's powers. Seventy-three percent of those polled agree that "the IRS has been given more power than it needs to do the job it is charged with carrying out", and 69% say that the IRS "frequently abuses its powers".
These findings are similar to those in a Gallup poll conducted in 1995, at which time 63% of Americans said that the IRS had too much power, thus putting it at the top of the "too much power" list based on 20 American institutions.
Part of this negative response to the IRS is no doubt due to Americans' negative reaction to the federal income tax system in general. Gallup polls conducted around the April 15th tax deadline each year have consistently shown that the public feels it is paying too much in federal income tax. Earlier this year, for example, 58% of those polled said that the amount of federal income tax they paid was too high. (The only times since 1947 when less than a majority of the public felt that their federal taxes were too high were 1949, and in 1961 and 1962, the first two years of the Kennedy administration.) In 1991, additionally, a Gallup poll conducted at tax time found that two-thirds of those polled either "disliked" or "hated" paying taxes.
Still, the incidence of actual, personal unfair treatment at the hands of the IRS is perhaps not so large as some might imagine. The Gallup poll conducted this past weekend asked Americans if they had personally ever had any direct contact with the IRS, other than the routine filing of taxes and receiving refunds. Only 43% responded affirmatively. Of that group, when asked how they were treated, the majority said they felt that the IRS was just doing the job it was required to do by law. Overall, only 15% of the population said that they had ever been treated unfairly by the IRS.
Other Institutions Also Seen as Having Too Much
The 1995 Gallup survey on institutional power in this country suggests that the IRS is not an isolated institution against whose power Americans react negatively: besides the 63% who said that the IRS had too much power, 60% in the same survey said that the Federal government in general had too much power, 62% said that the advertising industry had too much power, and 58% said that major corporations had too much power.
Abolish the IRS?
There is no clear-cut consensus on the issue of abolishing the IRS. When asked if the IRS should be abolished and its duties transferred to another agency, or whether it should "remain a separate agency in the federal government charged with collecting taxes", the public breaks about evenly, with 42% choosing the former solution, and 47% the latter.
The current results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,006 adults, conducted September 25-28, 1997. For results based on a sample of this size, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the error attributable to sampling and other random effects could be plus or minus 3 percentage points. 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.
Which of the following would you prefer -- for the IRS to remain a separate agency in the federal government charged with collecting taxes, or, for the IRS to be abolished and its duties transferred to another federal agency? (ROTATED)
|IRS remain separate||47%|
|IRS be abolished, duties transferred||42|
Which of the following statements concerning IRS power do you agree with more -- the IRS has been given about the right amount of power to do the job it is charged with carrying out, or, the IRS has been given more power than it needs to do the job it is charged with carrying out? (ROTATED)
|IRS has more than needs||73%|
|IRS has right amount||23|
|IRS has too little power (vol.)||*|
|* Less than 0.5%|
Still thinking about the powers the IRS has been given to do its job, do you think: the IRS generally uses its powers responsibly, or, frequently abuses its powers? (ROTATED)