Reason-Rupe Public Opinion Survey

62 Percent of Americans Say They Favor a Flat Tax


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, finding that 62 percent favor the flat tax and 33 percent are opposed. When asked where they would set the flat tax, the aveage 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, 6 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 wealthyRhetoric 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.

NEXT: A.M. Links: Barack Obama Proposed 442 Tax Increases, Harry Reid Says Ranch Showdown Can't Be Over, Rick Perry May Face Criminal Charges

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  1. All those misinformed responses about “the rich” make me want to cry. The demagoguery is complete. We are all subjects of Minitrue now. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

  2. “I do not think that someone who makes $300,000 should pay less than me who makes $40,000”

    Ha, ha! Not only do I pay more than you do in taxes, bub, I pay more in taxes than you make in a year! These people need to buy a clue.

    1. I have given up trying to inform people about taxes. When they start ranting I just sigh silently, and die a little bit inside.

      I find it rather depressing how many people think 25% of $50,000 is larger 10% of $1,000,000.

  3. The real problem is that so many people still think that a non-voluntary government has ANY legitimate authority over them, and that by their vote or survey opinion they actually have anything to say about what happens.

    Each human being actually owns him/herself. The self owner is responsible for him/herself and accepted dependents.

    Anyone who wishes to appoint overseers and controllers over their own lives should certainly be welcome to do so, but they can’t legitimately speak for those who don’t want it. Taxation, by whatever name and in whatever amount, is theft.

  4. The people responding are correct. Percentage-wise, the middle class pay the most – primarily because of social security and medicare.

    If you only look at what is officially called income tax, then yes – the rich pay a higher percentage. The lived experience of the middle class, however, is that a quarter of their income never even makes it to them, and they still have to pay property tax, sales tax, gasoline tax, etc.

    Then, the working class in particular tends to die before they can get much out of the social security and medicare they have paid into all their life.

    Then, there are all the loopholes mentioned. Yes, they do exist.

    It is all in how you frame the question – and it is curious how quickly some parties want to focus only on federal income tax.

    1. You are simply wrong that the middle class pays more due to social security and medicare. Look at Table 2 of the following and you’ll see that the payroll tax rate is similar for the middle class all the way up to the 99th percentile.…..xRates.pdf

  5. While I think a flat tax would be fairer, I would be happy if we could just get a SIMPLE progressive tax. Give me a rate, take it out of my paycheck and be done with it; don’t make me spend time and money trying to figure out how much I was under- or overcharged. The tax code should be two or three pages long, not 70,000.

    The real problem, though, is that there is no relationship between tax revenues and what the government spends. Instead of hard-coding a tax rate, I think we should set it so that receipts will be as high as the budget for that year — actually, probably some amount higher, so we can start reducing the debt.

    To make it even more effective, set the rates at the STATE level, so that whenever your Congressman lands some juicy pork project, your taxes go up as a result. I can’t think of anything that would reduce the budget faster than making people actually pay for what they get.

  6. I would prefer making the Income Tax unconstitutional (again) and go with a Point of Final Sale sales tax. Something similar to the Fair Tax.

  7. Legal experts have suggested that if Congress has the power to require individuals to buy health care insurance, it may also mandate that Americans buy broccoli. Legal experts have suggested that if Congress has the power to require individuals to buy health care insurance, it may also mandate that Americans buy broccoli. Legal experts have suggested that if Congress has the power to require individuals to buy health care insurance, it may also mandate that Americans buy broccoli. – – – – ????? 2017????? 2017

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