Misinformed on Taxes
Fellow conservative apostate Bruce Bartlett points out that, not only do Americans wildly overestimate their tax burden but that Tea Party supporters are especially likely to do so.
This poll sampled all Americans for their views on taxation and oversampled those who claim to be tea party supporters. Question 54 (page 25) is reproduced below. As one can see, five percent of all respondents and 11 percent of tea party supporters think that most Americans pay less than 10 percent of their income in federal income taxes each year. In fact, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation of the U.S. Congress, more than 86 percent of tax filers this year have an effective rate less than 10 percent.
Average Tax Rate All Americans Tea Party Supporters Actual Distribution Less than 10% 5% 11% 86.5% 10 — 20% 26% 25% 12.9% 20 — 30% 25% 26% 0.6% 30 — 40% 10% 14% 40 — 50% 2% 3% More than 50% 1% 1% Don’t know 31% 20%
Bartlett piles on:
I’m not going to waste my time with those who will insist that people were thinking about payroll taxes, estate and gift taxes, property taxes and all the other taxes that exist at the federal, state and local level. [Yesterday was] the day we pay federal income taxes and that’s what people were out protesting. And there is no getting around the fact that the vast majority of people think that the federal income tax burden is very considerably higher than it actually is.
While I don’t at all dispute his premise — people tend to be innumerate and be wildly misinformed on all manner of public policy issues — I think this is unfair on at least two counts.
First, while I happen to agree that federal income taxes are a special category for a variety of reasons, most people simply think of “taxes” as something paid to “the government.” That makes them unsophisticated, perhaps, but it’s not an unreasonable way of looking at the burden. It’s money you earned that you have to fork over to the Powers That Be.
Second, people aren’t protesting the amount of taxes people pay on average. They’re protesting their own tax burden. Which, naturally, they extrapolate to be the norm since, after all, who could better exemplify The Average American than themselves? And, since we know that Tea Party supporters tend to earn more income than average — and thus face a tremendously higher tax burden — their overestimation strikes me as defensible. Especially since most of them probably do pay somewhere between 10 percent and 30 percent of their income to the federal government.