Tax day poll numbers

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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As yet another tax day rolls around, confidence in the federal government’s handling of the economy is on the decline.

Much of Obama’s budget speech on Wednesday focused on tax reform. He repeatedly derided Republican calls for more tax cuts to the wealthy, and said that such tax cuts would come at the expense of services to the elderly and the middle class.

“They want to give people like me a two hundred thousand dollar tax cut that’s paid for by asking thirty three seniors to each pay six thousand dollars more in health costs?” Obama said. “That’s not right, and it’s not going to happen as long as I’m President.”

It’s a sentiment that may have fallen flat. According to an Associated Press-Gfk poll released Thursday, 62 percent of the public would prefer lawmakers to focus on cutting government services as a means of balancing the budget, while only 29 percent think that focus should be on increasing taxes.

Those numbers should be taken with a grain of salt: though the poll has a large sample size, it also has a relatively high margin of error at +/– 4.2 percent. The political impact of the numbers is debatable since the poll surveyed Americans over age 18, rather than likely voters.

This potentially says more about declining confidence in the federal government’s ability to handle the economy than it does about people’s feelings on tax cuts themselves. A Rasmussen poll released Thursday found that slightly more voters are more concerned that the federal government would do too much in reacting to the country’s economic problems than are worried about the federal government not doing enough.

Gallup has also found economic confidence declining among the public. Perhaps most importantly, a Gallup poll released Thursday found that Americans have more confidence in their state governors and in business leaders to address the economy than they do in either President Obama, Democratic leaders in Congress or Republican leaders in Congress. (As an aside, some of this could be reflected in Donald Trump’s increased popularity in recent polls).

Seen as a whole, poll results appear to suggest that the public’s reluctance to have government focus on raising taxes is less a reaction to the progressive income tax itself, but rather the expression of low confidence in the federal government’s ability to effectively use that tax money.

On the other hand, the poll that showed more confidence in governors and business leaders could cut the other way. Business leaders for the most part tout free market capitalism and fight for fewer regulations and lower taxes. Similarly, the governors that have been most in the public eye in the past year include Scott Walker and Chris Christie – Republican governors who have fought for lower taxes. The higher support for these two groups might suggest greater support for those policies.

But another Gallup poll released Thursday would appear to refute that. When the issue of the progressive income tax as a concept and the goal of balancing the budget are separated, and Americans are pretty evenly split on their view of the policy. In a poll conducted with much the same parameters as the AP-Gfk poll – large sample size of Americans over age 18, high margin of error – Gallup found that 47 percent said that the government should tax the wealthy more as a means of redistributing wealth, and 49 percent said that the government should do no such thing.

That sample breaks down along political lines in much the same way as it does in Congress: Democrats largely support higher taxes on the rich, while Republicans mostly oppose them. Independents lean toward not taxing the rich more heavily. A progressive income tax gains support as the yearly income of the respondent drops, and has fairly low support among those on the wealthier end of the spectrum.