With my colleague Andrew Rugg, I’ve updated a collection of polls on taxes. It’s available here. Here are five top takeaways for conservatives.
* Politicians’ promises to cut taxes lack credibility. The conservative and Republican advantage on taxes is on holding the line on them. In an early April bipartisan Battleground survey, the Republicans led the Democrats in Congress on “holding down taxes” by 28 percentage points, 56 to 28 percent. The Republicans in Congress led President Obama by 22 points, 53 to 31 percent.
* In Gallup’s latest poll, almost as many said that what they pay in federal income taxes in “about right” as said what they pay is “too high.” (45 to 48 percent). Hardly anyone says what they pay is too low. Other polls confirm that the number saying “about right” is growing. Fewer people are paying federal income taxes and that may be part of the explanation. According to the joint Brookings-Urban Institute Tax Policy Center, the proportion that will owe no tax in 2010 is 45 percent. Half of these people earn too little to pay federal income taxes; half use credits to reduce their tax liability. Another possible explanation involves the Bush tax cuts: After them, the proportion saying they were paying too much dropped sharply.
* Although pollsters haven’t focused much on it in the past year, the personal property tax appears to be more disliked than the federal income tax.
* President Obama has lost significant ground on handling taxes. In the April GfK-Roper/AP poll, 41 percent approved of his handling taxes and 51 percent disapproved. In April 2009, those responses were 54 percent approve, 35 percent disapprove. When he took office, majorities believed his tax promises. They don’t any more.
* In a poll released last week by CBS News and the New York Times, only 2 percent of Tea Party supporters angry at Washington volunteered “taxes” as the reason for their displeasure. Eleven percent volunteered “spending.” In questions like this one where people can give any response they want, a 5 percent response is considered significant. Other polls show that federal income taxes are not a top priority issue for most Americans. Conservatives need to twin their tax concerns with concerns about spending. Taxes alone won’t cut it.
– Karlyn Bowman is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.