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Attitude Check

How Americans would change the tax system

Frank Newport Jan 26, 2012

Adriene Hill: The number that really got people talking when Romney released his taxes was the amount of money he paid Uncle Sam, which brings us to our weekly Attitude Check: we want to know how Americans feel about taxes — the taxes they pay, and those paid by their BMW-driving neighbor.

So we turn to Frank Newport, as we do every week. He’s the editor-in-chief at the polling firm Gallup.  Good morning Frank.

Frank Newport: Good morning.

Hill: So how do Americans feel about the taxes they pay?

Newport: Well, Americans generally speaking feel a lot better about the taxes they pay now than they did in the past. We’ve seen a clear indication that over the last decade, Americans have become less and less negative about taxes — and that’s probably a result of the Bush tax cut. Americans still don’t think the amount of taxes they pay is necessarily too low, but we certainly don’t have the angst about taxes that we had ten or fifteen years ago.

Hill: And how do we feel about the taxes wealthier people pay?

Newport: Ahh — that’s a different question. That’s one of the most verified and replicated findings we have in American survey research over the last year or two. Consistently, 60 to 70 percent of Americans — right in that range —  say that the upper income Americans or wealthier Americans, however you want to define it, need to pay more in taxes.

In fact we just asked Monday night just before President Obama’s state of the Union Address: do you favor higher taxes on upper income Americans. Sixty-three percent said yes, so that’s our most recent iteration of the same thing. Doesn’t matter how you ask it, Americans say: yeah, sure, tax the rich.

Hill: Do you have a sense people are paying more attention now to the tax rates than they were a year ago?

Newport: I don’t think so. Every way we look at the data: what is the economic problem that bothered you most for your family; what’s the biggest economic problem facing the country; what’s the biggest problem in general facing the country — nowhere do we see Americans at all  talk about taxes. So I don’t think that’s a premiere issue. What Americans are concerned about economically now is jobs and having some kind of income that they can pay taxes on.

Hill: Frank Newport is editor-in-chief at Gallup. Thanks.

Newport: Good to be with you.

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