CNN/ORC poll: Most Americans say tax system favors wealthy
April 17th, 2012
05:00 AM ET
10 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.

Also see:

Obama re-election team increases fundraising haul

Buffett Rule would barely dent debt but fits nicely into Obama's theme

McCain: I agree with Ann Romney

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

    The only people benefitting from the tax system are the 47% of Americans that don't pay any taxes. Not to mention they get thousands back that they didn't pay in. Doesn't seem fair and equal to me. Every person rich or poor should be paying equally. Equal in America doesn't mean equal. And for those liberals who think the poor shouldn't pay they shouldn't be porking out kids they can't afford, but they do.

    April 17, 2012 08:11 am at 8:11 am |
  2. Mike

    You don't need a poll to tell you that. People like Mit Romeny create offshore accounts in Caymon Islands and Swiss bank to avoid paying tax. While we in the middle class end up paying higher tax rate than the likes of Romeny.

    April 17, 2012 08:12 am at 8:12 am |
  3. Jim

    The tax system wouldn't be unfair to ANYONE if we had a flat tax. EVERYONE pays (for instance) 10% of their GROSS INCOME, *INCLUDING* big businesses. EVERYONE PAYS. This would stop the 50% in this country that are not paying ANY taxes from getting away with it any longer.

    April 17, 2012 08:12 am at 8:12 am |
  4. Sorry

    Sorry, this poll is irrelevant. If we had more people going to college and then onto professional school, there wouldn't be this complaining going on. The people that are complaining are the ones that work 40-50 hours a week and barely have a useful skill, other than being a loyal, hard-working American. I agree that the system needs to be changed, but if you start taxing the rich, there will be dire consequences. Many people I know already hide a ton of their money, once they get to a certain income tax bracket always. This will only increase if the tax bracket starts becoming unfavorable to the rich.I would love to see the average income of the people that took this poll and exactly what their answer were. I'm sorry you didn't better yourself through education, take the proper roads in life or weren't born into money. Things happen, people make bad decisions and some are just down right unlucky. Whatever the case may be, the majority of the rich got their by working their tails off (i'm not counting the ridiculously rich here at all in my opinion, they are irrelevant.)

    April 17, 2012 08:13 am at 8:13 am |
  5. Brian Macker

    Wow. If this poll is accurate then "most Americans" believe a falsehood. Nearly fifty percent of Americans pay no taxes to support the government infrastructure, and they are the lower income earners that do not pay. They get all sorts of services they never pay for such as police, roads, court system, etc. Meantime we have the among the highest corporate gases in the world which combined with our income tas means the rich pay gases at a much higher rate than the poor or middle class. The only reason that anyone believes otherwise is because the Democrats constantly lie about this fact with their class warfare nonsense. There are rich people getting money they don't deserve in the first place but the source of that money is big government in the form of bailouts. Not every rich person earns their money but many do and it is the fault of government redistribution of wealth that banisters who should be out of business got trillions in loans. There are plenty of lower and middle class people getting funds they do not deserve from the government too. Just look no further than our "welfare" system.

    April 17, 2012 08:16 am at 8:16 am |
  6. John in Va

    This poll just illustrates how out of touch this poll is: The top 10% of wage earners pay 70% of all collected income tax revenue. The bottom 50% pay no taxes. How in the world is that geared toward the rich. Apparently those 50% that pay no taxes feel like they still pay too much and would like to be part of the 40+ million Americans that get back more than they put in. The bottom line is that the Bush tax cuts were for all Americans with the rich going from 39.6% to 35% with the largest tax cuts in the 15% to 10% bracket. Plus it established earned income credits that actually gave wage earners more back than they put in as well as raising the number of Americans not paying taxes to 50%. It would be nice for the press to actually cover the numbers factually. Only the top 50% of wage earners pay income taxes with the top 10% of wage earners paying 70% of all collected tax revenues. Explain fair share again? On another note, the Buffet Rule actually only applies to small percentage of Americans that would generate an estimated $5 billion annually which would take over 240 years to pay down one year of the $1.2 Trillion deficit we have each year. This is pure hyperbole to stir up the masses that know no better and it will do nothing to pay down the annual deficit not to mention the $15.6 trillion debt.

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

    Please keep in mind that over half of the people pay nothing in federal taxes. I'm guessing they're the 50% who think the amount they pay is correct.

    April 17, 2012 08:17 am at 8:17 am |
  8. tv22

    This is a terrible development because it doesn't favor the wealthy. I just did mine, got all sorts of credits and other deductions that I couldn't have taken if I were "rich". The real problem is people don't understand the system – if you have capital gains income it's taxed at the same rate, 15%, for everyone, rich or poor. If you have work income, it's taxed at a lower rate if you have lower income and at a higher rate if you have higher income. It has always been like that.

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

    Interesting to see that most Americans feel their taxes are too high yet 47% of them are paying no federal taxes at all.

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

    What a stupid poll almost 50% of the population don't even pay federal taxes

    April 17, 2012 08:19 am at 8:19 am |
  11. slewatha


    April 17, 2012 08:20 am at 8:20 am |
  12. nonyabidnes2

    I am not surprised that the media has now developed a poll to find this out. We Americans knew this a long time ago.

    April 17, 2012 08:20 am at 8:20 am |
  13. jmissal

    "Most Americans say tax system favors wealthy"

    That must be why the top 1% of income tax payers pay 20% of ALL income tax revenue.

    April 17, 2012 08:20 am at 8:20 am |
  14. Lagos

    And yet people are still stupid enough to scream for, and vote for people that want to put a hard floor on income taxes for the wealthy. How about fixing the source of the problem, all of the countless tax breaks and loopholes that the rich legally take advantage of and the poor can't? Why not get rid of all of them and tax people at 60% of their current tax bracket, maybe add back the essentials of deductions for charitable donations and the like?

    Because people don't understand economics and would prefer an ineffective, easy fix over a highly effective, somewhat hard to stomach fix. Neither party has the gonads to put accountants and tax preparers out of business, we've just got a Democrat in the white house at this exact moment trying to tell you that he gives a flying hoot about tax inequality. Yeah right.

    April 17, 2012 08:21 am at 8:21 am |
  15. JustThinking

    How can the system be thought to favor the wealthy when 47% of Americans pay no federal income taxes at all?

    April 17, 2012 08:21 am at 8:21 am |
  16. NoBozo

    Funny how CNN fails to do their job by reporting how bad the US economy is and how Bozo is making it worse. Instead they are going to beat Obamas drum and carry his water.

    April 17, 2012 08:21 am at 8:21 am |
  17. Ron

    Great, another CNN poll that nobody can believe.

    April 17, 2012 08:21 am at 8:21 am |
  18. John

    Fair Tax everyone pays no loopholes and much simpler.

    April 17, 2012 08:22 am at 8:22 am |
  19. Anonymous

    Do the 50% that do not pay taxes now, count? I would think not.

    100% of ALL Americans favor higher taxes, as long as theirs do not go up. The gov needs no more money to waste.

    April 17, 2012 08:23 am at 8:23 am |
  20. sithlord1

    I think it also favors the poor families with children. I made 31,000 last year i am married with 3 kids and i claimed 5 on my taxes. i paid a whopping 121.00 dollars in federal taxes last year. My tax return was 8,475 dollars. So I made 8,356 dollars just from filing my taxes.

    April 17, 2012 08:23 am at 8:23 am |
  21. Tony T

    Do the 50% that do not pay any federal income taxes now, count? I would think not.

    100% of ALL Americans are in favor of higher taxes, as long as theirs do not go up. Political games only being bought by the dim.

    April 17, 2012 08:24 am at 8:24 am |
  22. esoteric1

    Let’s see...the rich are really the only ones with large scale investments. The vast majority of the rich do not make money through salaries. The rich make most of their "income", defined as money they get paid from any source; a winning lottery ticket is "income" in example. This 'capital gains" which is "income" no matter how you look at it, is taxed at less than half the rate of a "salaried" income...why? The answer is...there is no reason other than the rich just want to keep their money..and not contribute to the system that allowed them to get it...America. .I want to keep mine too, difference is I can’t because it’s not catagorized as "capital gains" and that is crap. And my high tax rate as "income" means I can't invest enough to reap the benifits of "capitol gains" and that is just plain wrong...

    April 17, 2012 08:25 am at 8:25 am |
  23. 908Patriot

    I'd like to know the demographics of the folks being polled. This sounds like rubbish to me. With 49% not paying any taxes I'd say those are the folks being favored and I'm sure they are not wealthy individuals.

    April 17, 2012 08:27 am at 8:27 am |
  24. viknat

    Useless poll when almost 50% of the population don't even pay federal tax. Did you only poll the ones who paid or the other 50%?

    April 17, 2012 08:27 am at 8:27 am |
  25. John

    Sorry .. a tax system where 50% of the people pay no taxes is unfair to those that don't pay? A tax system where of the 50% that don't pay something like 15% get more money refunded than what they paid in is unfair? Maybe if everyone shared the burden and we all paid the same rate, there wouldn't be an issue.

    April 17, 2012 08:27 am at 8:27 am |
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