CNN/ORC poll: Most Americans say tax system favors wealthy
April 17th, 2012
05:00 AM ET
2 years ago

CNN/ORC poll: Most Americans say tax system favors wealthy

(CNN) - As procrastinators rush to file their 2011 tax returns by the Tuesday deadline, a new poll shows more than two-thirds of Americans believe the revenue system benefits the wealthy while being unfair to average workers.

In the CNN/ORC survey, 68% of respondents said the current tax system benefits the rich and is unfair to ordinary workers, compared with 29% who disagreed with that view. Overall, 50% said the federal income taxes they paid were about right, with 45% saying their taxes were too high and 3% answering their taxes were too low.

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Throughout the 1990s, more than six in 10 Americans generally said their taxes were too high, but after the tax cuts proposed by President George W. Bush went into effect, that number dropped to the high 40s and has stayed in that range since.

Political and generational divisions exist in how Americans view their taxes. Some 53% of Republicans say their income taxes are too high, compared with 41% of Democrats. Among Americans who identify as independents, 44% say they're paying too much in income tax.

Age also matters - the youngest and oldest Americans don't think their taxes are too high, but Americans between 35 and 65 think that way. Among 18-34 year olds, 41% say their taxes are too high, compared with 51% for Americans aged 35-49 and 51% for those aged 50-64.

When polling those 65 and older, 36% said their income taxes were too high.

That generation gap may be better understood as a paycheck gap or salary gap - younger Americans, who tend to have lower-paying jobs, and seniors, who tend to be on fixed incomes, may see less of their household income gobbled up by taxes, compared with workers in their peak earning years who likely feel a bigger tax bite and respond accordingly.

The poll was conducted for CNN by ORC International from Friday to Sunday, with 1,015 adult Americans, including 910 registered voters questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

CNN's Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.

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Filed under: CNN Poll Archive • Taxes
soundoff (310 Responses)
  1. CalDude

    Top 1% are paying about 40% of total tax revenue.
    Top 10% are paying about 65% of total tax revenue.

    Yeah. It's unfair.....lol....

    This is just a politicial game.
    Politicians [President Obama] loves to make you feel like he is on your side.

    April 17, 2012 08:54 am at 8:54 am |
  2. Lucho

    Hilarious. Close to 50% of people (including me) either don't pay taxes or get payed (not a return) on tax day. This explains why 50% say "taxes are about right for them". But how do 68% believe only the rich are benefiting?
    And what's with only 3% wanting more taxes? These polls do nothing but confirm the phenomenon of how populist ideas get votes... no need for coherence. By the way, I wonder what % of people believe that increases in taxes on the upper crust will not ever result in increased taxes for the middle class. How do you think politicians get around to raising taxes for everyone? It's definitely not by campaigning for it!

    April 17, 2012 08:54 am at 8:54 am |
  3. Asa Tiff

    Prior to the Fench Revolution the poor thought the wealthy didn't pay their fair share either. Fact is approximately 85% of the federal budget is paid for by the top 15% of wage earners in America (for you non-believers check out irs.gov). The biggest problem with the current tax income tax system (which has only been around just shy of 100 years) is that mathmatical logic has little to do with the average person's view of fairness in taxation. Flat tax is the only logically fair tax but human nature throws that out the window for most people and the fairness argument becomes a perception of fairness based on 'feelings' NOT logic. The mis-nomer of 'logic' is then assigned and the argument basis then becomes "I feel if you make more you should get taxed more", i.e. at a higher percentage than those who make less...and viola!- you have our present incremental tax system. Look up fair in the dictionary and ask yourself is your definition of fairness dictated by logic or feelings.

    April 17, 2012 08:54 am at 8:54 am |
  4. Andy

    These polls are ridiculous. Even if the wealthy were taxed at 90% the poll would remain the same. Everyone always things they are taxed more than others. The sick thing about taxes is how complex the code has become, filled with loopholes and an AMT that punishes people like me. Oh and as for both Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney, I make less money than both of them but my tax burden is 29%. How's that for fair share. I say simplify, get rid of loopholes, and spend way less.

    April 17, 2012 08:55 am at 8:55 am |
  5. skog

    Of course they feel that way our president, in an effort to pander votes has created a divide and demonized succesful Americans. Oh and since CNN initiated the poll I'm sure the questions were skewed to create their desired result.

    April 17, 2012 08:55 am at 8:55 am |
  6. amoe

    gee u think it favorsthe wealthy duh wake up america its been like that for awhile

    April 17, 2012 08:55 am at 8:55 am |
  7. roughplay

    How amusing since the bottom ½ of Americans pay zero income taxes. Just shows how naïve most of the press and one political party have made the American people.

    Does that mean we as a collective a paying enough taxes, No. Historically we are collecting taxes at a low rate compared to GDP. Part of the problem is too many people don’t pay a dime and yes tax rates at the top should be notched up. But seriously the rich pay most of the taxes so how does the system favor them. Just like the “Buffet” rule. The press and Obama want you believe that the rich who live off capital gains only pay 15% tax rate. But that is after 35% corporate taxes making the effective rate they pay at 50%. Until your salary which is pretax money so the percent you pay is your effective rate. The other thing that confuses people is what taxes are withheld vs. what they actually pay. Many people think they pay taxes because money is withheld but don’t understand they get is all back in their refund. So they think they pay taxes but they do not.

    April 17, 2012 08:55 am at 8:55 am |
  8. Mark82

    I think that 2nd to last paragraph nailed it. Peak earners dont feel their taxes are too high because they are moving forward and feel that they have a sufficient amount of disposable cash that they can use to LIVE life. Now the young low earners and the older earners will spend say 24% on taxes of their income 50%-60% on food , shelter transportation expenses to and from work(being productive). Seeing only a sliver of your income makes it difficult for those people to perceive any resemblance of living outside of work but also leaves workers no incentive to be productive and more likely to give up and depend on the system. In contrast the high earners will spend the same 24% ideally too(not always the case especially with the super earners) and instead of 50-60% of their earnings going to their general expenses, because of their elevated income, 10-20% of their income goes towards their general expenses. This leaves them with and additional 40% of disposable income.
    This post inst necessarily to argue that those with should be taxed more but to illustrate why the new, old, and low income earners feel they are shouldering a heavier tax burden. It isnt because of the amount that is being taken; it is their ability to have a life that is that is being taken from them in each pay cycle and each year. That is only compounded by higher transportation costs and food costs.

    April 17, 2012 08:56 am at 8:56 am |
  9. tee27

    This is why you need to vote for O`bama in 2012 like Bill Clinton said you must make the wealthy pay there fair share. Mitt will not release is back taxes why because he did not pay any and everyone knows that. Bush wreck this country with his tax cuts for the top.

    April 17, 2012 08:56 am at 8:56 am |
  10. Crusher1

    Nearly half do not pay income tax. How can 68% say others don't pay enough? Let's get real.

    April 17, 2012 08:56 am at 8:56 am |
  11. Eric

    This headline really irks me. Lets all look past the Democrat and Republican side of things for one second! The entire tax system in our country is completely screwed up. It is very easy to find examples of "people not paying their fair share"..but in most cases that is not the majority. 50% of Americans paid no taxes last year (the "poor") and GE paid no taxes last year(the "rich"). The whole system needs to be scrapped and rebuilt from the ground up. Eliminate all the write offs(mortage interest/kids..etc) One tax rate for all personal income/assets and one tax rate for business. That way EVERYONE will pay their fair share of taxes! There is no reason that someone making 30k should not pay ANY taxes on their income. Same as there is no reason that GE should be paying NO taxes.

    April 17, 2012 08:56 am at 8:56 am |
  12. Dan G.

    I wonder how the results would come out if you took the 47% out that don't pay any Federal Income Tax – most likely a much different result. How many people would gladly vote for the other guy to pay. I surely hope this country doesn't end up like a South American Dictatorship where the governments give to the poor all they need in turn for their vote to stay in power. Once again, it's easy to make the other guy responsible while you contribute nothing.

    April 17, 2012 08:56 am at 8:56 am |
  13. HenryMiller

    "CNN/ORC poll: Most Americans say tax system favors wealthy"

    How a system wherein a small minority pays 90% of all the taxes while nearly half pay no tax at all can be construed to favour that small minority utterly escapes me. I can only conclude that the Left's propaganda has been wildly successful, that the half who don't pay taxes are simply being vindictive, or that Americans are idiots.

    April 17, 2012 08:57 am at 8:57 am |
  14. Guest

    Most people in Iran think the holocaust is fiction.

    April 17, 2012 08:57 am at 8:57 am |
  15. Ben

    If you include all taxes (local, state, and federal) the US currently has roughly a flat tax. For example, the top 1% of income earners take in 21% of all income, and pay 21.6% of all taxes. The middle 20% take in 11.6% of all income, and pay 10.3% of all taxes. This is a radical change from what we had for most of the 20th century, where more of the tax burden rested on the wealthy. The change is due to the fact that local, state, and federal payroll taxes now make up a much larger portion of total taxes. All of these tend to be regressive.

    A number of politicians have said we need a flat tax system, but there are two major problems with this. 1) Wealthy tax payers tend to have more loopholes and deductions, making most flat tax systems highly regressive. 2) Part of the purpose of a progressive tax system is to act as a check on wealth condensation. Without that check, aggregate demand drops, and the economy slows down.

    April 17, 2012 08:58 am at 8:58 am |
  16. Chedar

    The rich expect the poor to defend this country as well as their millions. They pay very little taxes. Just look at the 5 sons of Romney behind him in his campaign trail. None of them have to serve the country to defend and protect their father's millions.

    April 17, 2012 08:58 am at 8:58 am |
  17. Shared_gum

    If you think this, then join the President and speak up!!! How can there be such a disparity in public opinion, and yet many people continue voting against their own interests (i.e., Republican).

    April 17, 2012 08:58 am at 8:58 am |
  18. Ken

    The tax system is fair however, the rich need to pay more because they fail to make jobs for americans.

    April 17, 2012 08:58 am at 8:58 am |
  19. nolimits3333

    Reagan and Bush lowered taxes for the rich and created a huge deficit. Now Obama has to let the Bush tax cuts expire in December to set things right. I believe he will do so.

    April 17, 2012 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  20. Annie

    Why illegal inmigrants from Mexico that get a tax numbers are allowed to get credits for as many dependants they want that are in Mexico? We pay for their medical, schools, lunches, transportation and this is cleary bias towards Mexicans.

    April 17, 2012 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  21. Justin

    This is absolutely absurd ... most americans (51%) pay no income tax, so how can that system favor the rich??

    April 17, 2012 09:01 am at 9:01 am |
  22. blake

    Really? How so? 47% pay absolutely no income tax. A progressive income tax structure. This favors the wealthy?
    More deception and propoganda from the leftist media.

    April 17, 2012 09:02 am at 9:02 am |
  23. erika

    It is true that the wealthy have their tax brakes, but the lower income bracket does not have to pay taxes and they get money back. So regardless of income we all have perks.

    April 17, 2012 09:02 am at 9:02 am |
  24. Dewey Green

    50% of those polled did not even pay an income tax.

    April 17, 2012 09:03 am at 9:03 am |
  25. lefty avenger

    Sorry Americans, the Tax system not only favors the wealthy, the WHOLE SYSTEM here favors the wealthy and exploits the workers. America has became an Aristocratic corporate oligarchy. The Rich own the media and continue the massive amounts of lies on all fronts.

    April 17, 2012 09:03 am at 9:03 am |
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