A recent survey by the Global Strategy Group, Inc. casts some interesting light upon the topic of what Americans think about tax fairness. This survey tapped into the opinions of taxpayers in six states (Maine, North Dakota, South Dakota, Indiana, Colorado, and Arkansas) to get their opinions on various forms of taxation. Although it should be noted that all but one of these states were “Red” (i.e., Bush supporting) in the 2004 Presidential election, the results are nevertheless instructive.
The highest response rate (59%) under the category of “completely unfair” was the tax on Social Security benefits. (More to come on this in a later post. If you missed it, you might also check out my previous post on the Social Security tax base). Close behind at 58% was the “Death Tax” or estate tax.
On the other end of the spectrum, similar percentages found taxes on alcohol and cigarettes “completely fair.” Income taxes generally, payroll taxes, and sales taxes drew slight pluralities in the “completely fair” category, with only a few (10-15%) finding them “completely unfair.” (I would suppose that a few respondents voted “unfair” for every tax – unless of course they neither drank nor smoked.)
The death tax opposition is shared by citizens with different income levels and political affiliations. In fact, those with under $30,000 in annual income had a slightly stronger negative opinion than those with more than $60,000 in income. Even differences between Bush and Kerry supporters were not that great: whereas 89% of Bush supporters agreed that the death tax was somewhat or very unfair, 71% of Kerry supporters had the same conclusion. Even when quizzed on the impact of this tax on the deficit, most respondents agreed that the rate should at least be reduced substantially if the tax could not be abolished.
This result is quite heartening. It suggests that most Americans have not bought into the culture of envy that seems to animate many of those who support redistributive policies. Rather than tearing away property from the cold dead hands of one’s loved ones who have passed on from this world, most respondents seemed to think that government should not be involved in this kind of redistribution.
A memorandum discussing the survey, dated March 2, 2005, is available on the web at this address:
It is an interesting read.
Edward A. Morse
Professor of Law
Creighton University School of Law