Despite Negative Rhetoric, Most Americans Think Taxes Are a Good Idea

Most Americans are agreeable to the idea of paying taxes, and many would even support paying more to improve the services they care about, according to a recent episode of “No Jargon,” a weekly podcast from the Scholars Strategy Network.

The episode featured Vanessa Williamson, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, who discussed how many Americans may grouse about their tax forms every April but, when surveyed, actually think they pay the right amount in taxes and would not mind paying more if their dollars funded programs like education and infrastructure.

Williamson polled 1,400 respondents across the country, finding that most (51 percent) were more bothered by feeling like others get away without paying their “fair share” in taxes rather than feeling that they personally pay too much (13 percent). Forty-five percent of respondents felt that taxes were too high for lower-income individuals compared to 40 percent who felt they were paying their fair share.  Just 11 percent said low-income households should pay more taxes.

Those surveyed had far less generous feelings about higher-income households, with 70 percent saying they felt this group paid too little taxes.  Only 16 percent felt they were paying their fair share and 11 percent felt wealthier individuals were paying too much.

Williamson suggests that the longstanding negative rhetoric about taxes is the result of taxpayer misconceptions that are “reinforced both by media discourses and by the day-to-day experience of taxpaying.” She points to a lack of existing research on positive attitudes towards taxpaying as a potential barrier to future policy efforts that rely on tax increases. This is true not only at the federal level, but in states such as Michigan where voters last year rejected a ballot proposal to slightly increase the state’s sales tax in order to boost funding for schools, transportation and a major expansion of the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

Using research like Williamson’s to change the taxation narrative could help prevent similar outcomes down the road and build opportunities to expand tax credits for working families at both the state and federal levels.