Americans Say Federal Government Wastes 56 Cents of Every Tax Dollar


Findings from the latest Reason-Rupe poll show that on average Americans estimate the federal government wastes 56 cents out of every tax dollar. This suggests Americans believe government wastes over half of what taxpayers pay to the federal government in taxes each year.


Note: Data combines Gallup and Reason-Rupe survey data: 1979-2011 Gallup survey data, 2012 Reason-Rupe survey data.  Gallup's Wording: Of every tax dollar that goes to the federal government in Washington DC, how many cents of each dollar would you say are wasted? Reason-Rupe: For every dollar you pay in federal taxes, about how much of it do you think the government wastes?

This finding continues a long, increasing trend since 1979 when Gallup began asking the question. In the early 1980s Gallup found that Americans, on average, thought that government wasted 38 percent of their taxes. By the early 2000s, this number had jumped to 46 percent. In 2011 Gallup discovered that Americans believed that over half of tax dollars were wasted. Now in 2012, the Reason-Rupe poll finds this number maintains a steady increase, at 56 percent, or 56 cents out of every dollar.

Like Gallup, the only major political and demographic groups to believe on average that less than half of all tax dollars are wasted include Democrats ($.49), liberals ($.47) and those with post-graduate degrees ($.46).

Groups who on average thought the government wasted 60 percent or more of tax dollars include Republicans, libertarians, conservatives, Tea Party supporters, high school graduates, and evangelicals.

Note: This chart shows the interquartile range (IQR), or the middle 50 percent of responses, for the cents-per-dollar-wasted estimates. The IQR is a measure of spread and is less affected by extreme values or outliers. For instance, imagine all survey respondents were lined up according to their estimated cents per tax dollar wasted. The person standing in the middle of the line would represent the median response, similar to the average. If the line were then divided into four sections, the bottom section would contain twenty-five percent of survey respondents and the top section another twenty-five percent of survey respondents. The survey respondents in between the bottom and top groups would be the interquartile range. These include respondents who gave the middle fifty percent of estimates, and reveal the most typical range of responses.

Full poll results found here, and cross tabs found here.

Nationwide telephone poll conducted March 10th-20th of both mobile and landline phones, 1200 adults, margin of error +/- 3 percent. Columns may not add up to 100 percent due to rounding. Full methodology can be found here

Emily Ekins is the director of polling for Reason Foundation where she leads the Reason-Rupe public opinion research project, launched in 2011. Follow her on Twitter @emilyekins.

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  1. The average American knows fuck-all about the budget. Ex., they think we can balance it through cutting foreign aid and food stamps, when the real drivers are SS, Medicare, and defense.

    1. Which are the items the Tea Party people support most.

      1. One of the few sensible things the Tea Party says these days.

  2. Ask them specifically what they want cut, and they’ll be hard pressed to find 5 cents wasted.


    2. You’re confused. This isn’t about the appropriateness of the spending, but its effectiveness. One can support every single government program and agency in existence but still believe that money is being wasted if the programs are being run horribly. I would bet you support having a military, but still think there’s a ton of fat that can be cut from the defense budget.

      1. True, but tackling waste, fraud, and abuse is a talking point, not a cure to the budget.

        Under the two most recent presidential administrations, the single policy that has contributed most to deficits were the Bush tax cuts. So why don’t we start there?

        1. Yep, that’s why Obama rolled back the tax cuts as soon as the Democrats took control of Congress and the White House. Oh wait, that’s right, they need 95% control of Congress in order to do anything while Republicans can apparently get their way with less than 50%.

          1. Odd how that works.

            Put another way, Obama had 2 years and a fickle supermajority-requiring Senate to undo 30 years of damage.

            I’m going to assume you know as well as I do the realities of Congress in those two years. The “the Democrats were inexplicably lazy” line reeks of purification. New talking points, please.

            1. And the stupid cunt is back to blaming an approximate five-cent cut in taxes on our present woes.

              1. Not entirely; the Bush depression and the Bush wars are also two huge contributors. Since you are totally nonpartisan, surely you’ll have no problem accepting those simple facts.

                1. You had best remove the splinter of partisanship from your own eye, Tony, before casting aspersions on others.

                  BTW, just a reminder: I failed to vote for Bush. Three times, if you count his old man.

        2. Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

          1. Tony should remember that before he posts again.

            1. Yeah, that was my point. He keeps repeating that canard about the Bush tax cuts, seemingly convinced that if he just says it often enough we’ll all forget about the government’s colossal spending addiction.

              1. I’ll stop repeating it when you guys acknowledge them as the single biggest policy contributor to deficits, which they are.

                You can either be a moronic dogmatist or you can approach the world as an adult. Not both.

                1. Going from 39.6% to 34% was “the single biggest policy contributor to deficits”?

                  Pull the other one, it has got bells on.

    3. Yes, obviously we need to increase taxes. GSA is planning some more Vegas conferences, and the Secret Service has got some par-tays on for Cancun and Acapulco.

      1. I’d actually rather pay them to party than to screw with me. Shut down the WOD and WOT and give the money to those guys for hookers and blow.

        1. LOL, that’d solve any recruiting problems they have too.

    4. Ask them specifically what they want cut, and they’ll be hard pressed to find 5 cents wasted.

      I imagine that’s true. The 56% number is meaningless.

      I would be happy whacking entire departments out of the federal government. But that’s just me.

      1. Its not just you.

        1. But… but… cutting even one penny from future spending increases = Instant Somalia! What would we doooooooooo if we cut an entire *department*????

          /liberal griefering

    5. Remember, if you Itch the Stinky Anus all you get is a smelly finger.

    6. Tea partier here…I’d suggest cutting 50% of the military budget, along with all social programs, as well as, ED, DHS, HUD, DOL, DOT, DEA….

      After all that, we should be in the black in a few years. Then I’d suggest a flat 10% tax rate. With no option to have it change, and with a requirement that US gov only spend money they actually get.

    7. Start with a couple of DoE’s, EPA, BATF, and 25% off Defense. That should cover a few nickels.

  3. I estimate the government wastes $1.00 of every of every $1.00 taxed. Can you figure that into your poll and rerun the results?

    1. That’s only 60 cents of every $1.00 outlayed. The rest is debt sold to … actually I don’t know who is buying US treasuries anymore. Probably just Benny and the Inkjets and old people who haven’t got the word.

      The word is DOOM.

      1. You have a point, so in reality, the US government wastes $1.60 of ever $1.00 taxed.

        1. Not enough to make me want to vote for him, but he’d still be better than the current occupant.

          1. Shit, commented in the wrong place… how that did happen?

            1. You always do it, often winding up at the end of barely related threads rather than under the post. Click “reply to this” on the post you’re replying to.

  4. Romney is telling his donors he will slim down HUD and the Dept of Education so put him into the “one cent wasted” category.

    1. I smell two cunts in this thread… yours, and Tony’s.

  5. The tragic part is that even when people are convinced the government wastes 1/2 the money it takes, they seem to just think it’s being spent on the wrong things. I suggest the government just start an enormous Beanie Baby collection so we can all agree it’s being spent on the same wrong thing.

  6. I have a question?

    How long is the Emperor of China’s nose?

    Can you add that question to the poll so we can find out?

    1. Other suggested poll questions:

      1. Thin crust or deep dish?
      2. Kirk or Picard?
      3. Worst Michael Bay movie?
      4. Who is uglier: NutraSweet or Warty?

      Feel free to add more.

      1. 5. How many poor people have you stolen from?
        6. When did you stop beating your spouse?
        7. Green with purple polka-dots or purple with green polka dots?
        8. Red shirt/pink tie or pink shirt/red tie?

      2. 1. Both.
        2. Sisko, you uncultured son-of-a-shitsnackin’-whore.
        3. I hope we’ve seen the worst.
        4. All variants of “your mom.”

    2. I’ve met a guy who claims (with documentation) to be the Last Emperor’s nephew. Judging by his photo, I’d say somewhere in the 2-3 cm range.

      1. I’m not talking about measuring the nose idrectly.

        I’m talking about asking uninformed Americans what they think and presenting the result as if it means something.

        1. Yeah, we should wait for the official day in November.

  7. the middle of the line would represent the median response, similar to the average

    The median isnt “similar to” the average, it is an average.

    The common averages are mean, median, and mode. Geometric mean is also an average. Etc, etc.

    1. You would think someone describing “interquartile range” wouldnt screw up “average”.

    2. The median is the middle number in a group of numbers or the average of the middle two if there is an even number. It isn’t necessarily the average of the range.

      If you have: 1 2 10 median=2, average=4.33333

      If you have: 1 2 4 10 median=3, average=4.25

      1. He’s being pedantic and refusing to use “average” to mean “mean”. The value you are reporting as the “average” in your examples is specifically the mean (which is generally what people are referring to when they use the term average).

        1. you are technically correct — the best kind of correct.

          1. I’m Auric, baby! Please insert liquor!

        2. Normally I would harsh on robc for being a pedant, but Ekins should be more precise in her usage as a statistician.

          1. I’m not quite sure how you can complain about her saying that the median is similar to the average when that’s exactly what it is. Sure, maybe she could have said mean instead of average but the median is not always the mean. The median, mean, and mode of a set of numbers does not have to be the same number.

            1. Median isnt similar to an average, median is an average. In the world of math, average is a set covering all kinds of statistical terms, including median.

      2. You misunderstand. The term average refers to multiple things. The term you are looking for is mean. Or more specifically, arithmetic mean.

        1 2 10 median=2 mean=4.33333
        1 2 4 10 median=3 mean=4.25

        1. That’s all well and good and correct, but the median number is not an average unless it is the average of the two middle numbers in an even numbered set.

          And technically, the mode is not an average either, it’s just the number that shows up the most.

          1. Average is a generic term referring to all of them. Median is an average. Mode is an average. Mean (arithemetic) is an average. Mean (geometric) is an average. Weird weighted averages are averages.

            All means are averages, not all averages are means.

  8. Americans Say Emily Ekins Wastes 56 Chars of Every Alt Text

  9. Define waste. I disagree with transfer payments, but I’m not sure that I’d call them waste.

  10. Waste is spending $200,000 to move a shrub.

    1. I’m still trying to figure out how it can cost even a trillion dollars a year to run this country… then, I remember: People like Tony are in charge at the moment.

  11. I’d put it at closer to 100 cents.

  12. Since the definition of waste is subjective,I’m really suprised it’s not 90%.

    Waste = “spending money on something I wouldn’t”

  13. If the government steals $1.00, and uses that dollar to actively destroy value, then it has wasted more than $1.00.

    And, since the taxes don’t cover all spending, it is possible for, say, 80% of spending to be wasted and over 100% of taxes to be wasted.

    So, sign me up for the govt wasting more than 100%.

  14. Notice that as people get “more educated” they think less money is wasted.

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