What Do People Think About Taxes? They Are Partisan, Dazed, And Confused

What Do People Think About Taxes? They Are Partisan, Dazed, And Confused

The newly-published results of an extensive survey of public views on taxes find deep partisan divisions and a widespread lack of understanding abou

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The newly-published results of an extensive survey of public views on taxes find deep partisan divisions and a widespread lack of understanding about federal income and estate taxes. The survey also shows that people’s perceptions of how government spends revenue may have a powerful effect on their views of the tax code. The conclusion: Partisanship defines not only what people think about taxes, but how they think about taxes.

The study, by Harvard University economist Stefanie Stantcheva, was published in August by the National Bureau of Economic Research (paywall). It found fairness and distributional effects of tax policy far outweighed efficiency in the minds of most respondents. While the concept of fairness was critically important to people’s views of taxes, perceptions of what fairness means varied widely—and seemed to correlate with their political affiliation.  For another perspective on tax fairness, take a look at this report by my TPC colleague Vanessa Williamson.

Widespread misunderstanding

Stantcheva also found widespread misunderstanding of the tax code, a finding similar to other studies.  For example, respondents thought median-income households pay twice as much tax as they really do and that top bracket households pay slightly less than they do.

They believed that the top individual income tax bracket kicks in at $188,000 (in 2019, it really was about…



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