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.