Analyzing Tax Polls
Taxes have always been a hotly debated policy, but have been receiving more attention recently with the new Bush administration. This attention has spurred new thought and consideration of the issue. It seems that people vary in their reasons for supporting tax cuts, but also generally believe that taxes should be low and paid for by the wealthy. Ideas of limited government, equality of opportunity, and individualism influence Americans’ beliefs regarding taxes; because of these beliefs, most Americans would favor a policy to cut taxes.
In one poll, conducted on January 3, 2001, respondents were asked if reducing the federal income tax should be a top priority. Sixty-six percent said it should be a top priority with an additional twenty-six percent saying tax cuts are important but are a lower priority. This means that ninety-two percent of people believe lowering taxes is important with only the remaining eight percent responding that tax cuts are not important.
When considering the political culture of America, it is clear why an overwhelming majority of people favor lowering taxes. Taxes are, in a simplified explanation, a means by which the government takes a citizen’s money to spend on public goods. Because of a strong belief in individualism, people are opposed to the government taking personally hard-earned money; one should be able to decide how his or her money is spent.
Equality of opportunity also plays a role in tax cut opinions. Taxes are a method of redistributing wealth. By redistributing wealth, through an American’s view, people who have not worked as hard or diligently will reap the benefits of those who have worked harder for their achievements. It is considered unfair for someone to benefit from another’s labor, training or time as equally as the person who earned the reward.
Limited government beliefs are a third reason people favor tax cuts. The more money the government has to spend, the more power government will have over the people. This is so because the government will have more discretion in deciding which citizens receive what money and for what purpose. This idea dates back to the founding of the United States in that, government should not have an absolute role over the people and their prerogatives should be decided independently (that is, how they spend their money). In America, ideas relating to Socialism also are perceived negatively. By having higher taxes, a country becomes more Socialist because the government is providing and paying for more goods and services that could be paid potentially by the private sector.
A second poll, conducted on January 13, 2001, asked respondents which type of tax cut should be the highest priority. Twenty-nine percent said people with low and moderate incomes should be most targeted in a tax cut. Thirty-one percent replied that tax cuts should be given to all people, while fifteen percent said eliminating the marriage penalty is the largest priority. Inheritance and estate taxes, capital gains taxes and a combination of any of the above compose the remaining twenty-five percent of top tax cut priorities.
The largest percentage priority given above was thirty-one percent in favor of tax cuts for all people. Again, the individual’s belief in the right to keep, spend or save one’s own earnings are the motivation for tax cuts for all citizens. Equality is another influence on this belief. This thirty-one percent probably thinks, why should one citizen receive a tax cut and not another? To only give tax breaks to some would be unfair and unequal. Equality of opportunity would, theoretically, be preserved by cutting taxes of all citizens. Each citizen had the same opportunity to earn their money and should have that same opportunity to decide how it is used. In America, no guarantee exists that every person will have equality of the results of their labor; this is the fundamental means to create incentives for people to improve their position in society and work hard.
It is fascinating and even contradictory that the next largest priority to respondents of this poll was cutting taxes for low and moderate income citizens only. Making this the priority contradicts the explanations made above about equality of opportunity and result, but does explain another aspect of political culture. People also believe in what is called the “common good”. By these respondents’ opinions, it is probably more important to provide for the good of society and not only the good of the individual. It is the society that creates a strong atmosphere and opportunity for the individual to succeed.
The last poll, conducted on February 7, 2001, asked how likely respondents thought it was that Congress would pass a major tax cut this year (2001). Twenty-five percent of respondents said it was very likely, while thirty-nine percent said it was somewhat likely. Twenty percent replied it was not very likely, and ten percent said it was not likely at all. Six percent were unsure. Simplistically, this shows that sixty-four percent of people think it is likely or somewhat likely Congress will pass a major tax cut.
Respondents could have answered in this manner because, currently, the tax cut is being proposed by a Republican president and the majority of Congress is also Republican. This makes it much simpler, logistically, for a tax cut to be passed in a form similar to the form it enters Congress. However, it could also be assumed that because Congress is made of elected officials and, ideally, of people representing American beliefs, that the tax cut would be passed because it is what the people indirectly want to happen and think is important.
By examining these three polls, it can be determined that people would favor a policy that reduces federal taxes. It is complicated to distinguish whether all people or only low or moderate income citizens should receive the tax cut in a new tax policy. This complication in determining who receives tax breaks is explained by the majority beliefs in individualism, equality, and limited government, but also by the underlying belief in the common good. Americans will probably always favor a tax cutting policy, but will favor it more or less so depending on circumstances in society and the recipients of the cut.