The latest Reason-Rupe poll asked Americans if they would support or oppose changing the federal tax system to a flat tax, where everyone pays the same percentage of his or her income. The poll finds that 62 percent favor the flat tax and 33 percent are opposed. When asked where they would set the flat tax, the average response was 15 percent.
This reflects another recent Reason-Rupe poll finding that 67 percent of Americans say it is "not the responsibility of the government to reduce the differences in income between people with high incomes and those with low incomes," while 29 percent say it is.
Strong support for a flat tax extends across income groups (62 percent) among those making less than $30,000 a year and 73 percent among those making more than $110,000 a year. Similarly across education groups and age groups, six in 10 say they support the flat tax.
Support for a flat tax extends beyond partisanship, with 66 percent of Republicans, 68 percent of independents, and 52 percent of Democrats in support. Nevertheless, Democrats are more likely to oppose the flat tax (43 percent) compared to Republicans (29 percent) and independents (29 percent).
Americans who say the less government the better and that the free market can better solve problems than a strong government, favor a flat tax by a margin of nearly 50 points (roughly 72 to 25 percent). However, those who think government should be doing more and that we need a strong government to solve problems favor a flat tax by only 8 points (roughly 51 to 45 percent).
These results seem to contradict previous Reason-Rupe poll results finding a majority in support of raising taxes on the wealthy—implying support for a progressive rather than flat tax. In 2012, Reason-Rupe found that 57 percent favored raising taxes "on those making more than $250,000 a year," while 39 percent opposed. Again, in 2013, Reason-Rupe found that 66 percent favored the government raising taxes on "wealthier households," while 31 percent opposed.
Americans Think The Middle Class Pays More Taxes Than the Rich
One explanation for why Americans say they want both a flat tax and to raise taxes on the wealthy is that 66 percent of Americans are under the distinct impression that the middle class is literally paying a larger share of their income in taxes than the wealthy. Rhetoric throughout the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns made many Americans believe they were paying more in taxes than the wealthy. Reason-Rupe recently asked Americans who favor these tax increases to explain in their own words why they wanted the wealthy to pay more. While many of the reasons were about the rich being better able to afford higher taxes, many revealed that they believe the rich actually pay less taxes than they do (full responses here):
- "I do not think that someone who makes $300,000 should pay less than me who makes $40,000"
- "There is a loophole where they aren't paying their fair amount, I would like a flat tax"
- "Look at Romney paying less taxes"
- "I think the wealthy should pay as much as the poor percentage-wise equally"
- "I heard too many stories of loopholes that the wealthy figure out how to get out of taxes"
- "Fair share—same percentage"
- "They don't pay the same tax rate, everyone should be taxed the same"
- "They need to pay their taxes like the middle man"
- "Fat cats sitting back but poor people doing all the paying"
- "Because they pay less taxes, the more money they make the less taxes they pay"
- Most of them work for the government and get inside information that most of us old folks don't have"
- "I think the average person pays a bigger check"
- "Wealthier people are paying less income tax percentage than the lower income people"
Urban Institute data reports that in fact, the wealthy do pay a higher tax rate than the middle class. Average effective federal tax rates in 2011, as a percentage of adjusted gross income find the following (after tax credits):
Lowest Income Quintile: -5.8%
Second Quintile: 1.3%
Middle Quintile: 9.2%
Fourth Quintile: 12.9%
Top Quintile: 20.6%
The "1 Percent" pay 25.3%"
Reason-Rupe also found that only about 20 percent of Americans knew the actual share of federal income tax dollars paid by the top 5 percent of households, which is roughly 60 percent of all tax receipts. Without knowing these facts, 57 percent of Americans say they think the top 5 percent should contribute no more than 40 percent of all the tax revenue collected.
These data indicate that the public really doesn't know how much the rich pay, and often likely make policy judgments based off of the political rhetoric of the politicians and pundits they trust. The more Americans are led to believe that there is widespread cheating among the nation's wealthy, the greater the support for raising their taxes.
Even though recent polls show that Americans say they support a flat tax and don't believe government has a responsibility to reduce the income gap, Gallup has found in recent years that a slim majority (52 percent) supports the government "redistribut[ing] wealth by heavy taxes on the rich." It's unclear if different wording, the belief that the rich pay less than the middle class, or something else explains these seemingly contradictory findings. It's likely that many Americans don't know what the word "redistribute" even means and thus respond as if this is just a question about raising taxes on the wealthy.
Nationwide telephone poll conducted March 26-30 2014 interviewed 1003 adults on both mobile (503) and landline (500) phones, with a margin of error +/- 3.6%. Princeton Survey Research Associates International executed the nationwide Reason-Rupe survey. Columns may not add up to 100% due to rounding. Full poll results, detailed tables, and methodology found here. Sign up for notifications of new releases of the Reason-Rupe poll here.