To assert that
48% of Americans think that the amount they pay in taxes is about right — and while this is the most positive tax survey that Gallup has taken, it is pretty clear that folks have been moving to that position for awhile. I’m not sure of this is a question of coming to terms with paying for the government you want (in direct opposition to the wingnut you can have allthe government you want for free — just not the social safety net stuff), but this is looking like we are growing up abit.
It struck me that we really ought to take into account the datum provided by Coyote (from Kevin Drum, posting at that notorious conservative rag Mother Jones):
Not bad! 49% think their income taxes are just fine or even a bit low. Except for one thing: this chart shows exactly the opposite of what it seems. Consider this: about 40-50% of Americans pay no federal income tax at all. That’s zero dollars. I think we can safely assume that these are the people who think that their taxes are about right. What this means, then, is that virtually every American who pays any income tax at all thinks they’re paying too much. There are various reasons why this might be so (a sense of unfairness regardless of amount paid, a fuzzy sense of how much they’re paying in the first place, simple bloody-mindedness, etc.) but overall it’s not exactly a testament to our collective willingness to fund the machinery of state.
The sudden rush to see in this chart a willingness of the American people to pay income taxes is what you might call lying (to yourself) with statistics.
UPDATE: After a couple of spirited exchanges with Dana Garrett (see the comments section) I went back and looked at the original Gallup article again, retrieving this graph:
What's intriguing here is that this graph could easily be read to support the idea that most people felt the Bushco tax cuts were actually fair.
Let's see: perceptions of income tax unfairness peak in 1999 under Bill Clinton at 49%, and then drop rapidly into the 30%-range, by 2002, where they have stayed ever since. Likewise, perceptions of fairness mirror the same movement, with only 45% thinking their income tax burden was fair in 1999, a figure that increased to 64% by 2003.
In order to read this chart as indicating that most people felt the Bushco tax cuts were unfair in that they privileged the wealthy, you actually have to dispute it or come up with elaborate circumlocutions (like Dana's hypothesis that the pollsters asked the wrong question while the respondents answered what they should have asked).
A commenter at the original Coyote post even uses this information to argue,
Also, do you notice the correlation between these results and Bush tax policy? Contrary to the myths of the left, the Bush tax cuts heavily favored the lower income groups by creating a new entry level tax bracket, expanding the child tax credit, and eliminating for the most part the marriage income penalty. Under Bush tax plans many more Americans were not paying any federal income taxes.
Disclaimer: I was not a huge fan of the Bushco tax cuts because I don't like the idea of government transfers of wealth in either direction. But I do intend to call the innumerate on their inability to read and interpret statistical data correctly.