Thin Line Between Stupid and Clever

Opining on Whatever

Americans Apparently Confused About Taxes

The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research has released its 2010 study on public opinion surrounding taxes in America.  With today being “Tax Day,” expect to hear a great deal about how much Americans hate taxes, feel like their taxes should be lower, it’s all Obama’s fault, etc.  However, the AEI study shows that Americans actually don’t know what they think about taxes. 

The study shows that Americans have always bitched about their taxes.  Since polling began in 1947, only seven times have less than half of the American population felt that their taxes were NOT too high.  This obviously proves that American hate taxes, right?  Well, not so fast.  When asked “do you regard the the income tax which you will have to pay this year as fair?” a large majority answers yes. In 2009, 61% of respondents in a Gallup Poll responded that they paid a fair amount.  So, apparently, we hate paying taxes even though we’re paying a fair amount.  Conclusion:  Americans hate fairness.

Another area of confusion is the redistribution of wealth.  When asked in Feb. 2009, “would you support or oppose the government redistributing wealth by a much higher income tax on high income earners?,” 52% stated they would oppose.  This isn’t surprising, because only socialists would support such a concept, right?.  Wrong.  All you really have to do is reword the question.  When asked, “do you think the new tax code should be changed so that middle and lower income people pay less than they do now and upper income people pay more in taxes than they do now, or don’t you think the tax code should be changed?”, 65% say yes.  It’s obvious that at least 13% of those answering the second question have no idea what redistribution of wealth means.

You can take away two things from the AEI study.  One is that you should be wary when people claim to take anything of great import from a poll.  Polls are great at showing trends, but not so great at capturing feelings on a complex issue.  The same question, worded differently, can produce vastly different responses.  The second and most important takeaway is that Americans really have no idea what we are talking about.  We love to rail against easy targets whether they be taxes, illegal immigrants, socialists, or whatever, but when the discussion becomes slightly more complex it is apparent that most of us have no idea what we are talking about.  So on “Tax Day,” as you are beat over the head with America’s “hatred” of taxes, remember that Americans don’t really hate taxes.  Americans are just idiots.

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