What do Americans Think About Nonpayers?

September 19, 2012

Since Mitt Romney inartfully put the issue of nonpayers on the political table, every pundit has had their say. But it’s fair to ask what real Americans think about people not paying income taxes. As far as we know, the Tax Foundation is the only organization that has asked this question in a national public opinion survey.

In our 2009 Tax Foundation/Harris Interactive Poll, we asked the following question of over 2,000 American adults:

Q: In 2006, 45.6 million Americans - that’s one-third of all taxpayers – paid no federal income tax after deductions and credits. Thinking about your own tax burden, do you think this is fair, or do you feel everyone should be required to pay some minimum amount of tax to help fund government?

 

2009

2007

2006

2005

Everyone should be required to pay some minimum amount of tax to help fund government

66%

61%

63%

59%

This is fair

19%

24%

21%

21%

Not sure

15%

15%

16%

20%

As we can see, two-thirds of adults responded that they thought everyone should pay at least something to help fund the basic costs of government. This is the highest percentage of this response of the four years in which we polled on this question. By contrast, just 19 percent of adults said that it was fair for some people to not pay income taxes. 15 percent were not sure.

Looking below these top-line numbers, Republicans were more likely to say that everyone should be required to pay some minimum amount of tax to help fund government (75 percent) than Democrats (63 percent) and Independents (65 percent). Between political philosophies, the differences were even more stark with conservatives at 75 percent, liberals at 49 percent and moderates at 67 percent.

Men (69 percent) were more likely than women (63 percent) to say that everyone should pay some income taxes. We also found that older adults, more educated adults, and adults with higher incomes responded similarly. For example, while 56 percent of adults age 18 to 34 said everyone should pay some income taxes, 73 percent of adults over age 55 responded in this manner. Similarly, 65 percent of adults with a high school education or less gave this response, 70 percent of college grads gave this response. Finally, 58 percent of adults who earned less than $34,999 said everyone should pay some income taxes while 72 percent of adults who earned more than $75,000 responded in this way.

The bottom line is that while Washington’s chattering class is in an uproar over Romney’s remarks, the vast majority of adults of all political persuasions, ages, and demographic backgrounds believe that it is unfair that so many people pay no income taxes and they believe that everyone should contribute to the basic cost of government.  

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