Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Problem with Tax Polls

A great example of a meaningless poll is presented by Gallup and it regards the views of Americans regarding income taxes (link). The phenomenal amount of complexity associated with the issue combined with the simplicity of the given question means the results are completely without value.

The first, and most obvious problem, is that people don't generally like being taxed. So there is an inherent predisposition to say that any taxes are too high, that people can appreciate taxes as necessary means that some fraction will overcome that impulse and say that they are appropriate or even low. Now we get to venture into guessing territory: I would guess that those who say their tax levels are appropriate or low do not have serious money problems. I would guess further that individuals who are more giving would similarly say that their taxes are appropriate or low.

The second problem, I see as much bigger: taxes affect people in different income brackets differently. We have a somewhat progressive tax scheme (on the federal level--state level goes from progressive to flat to regressive). This means people who make more are taxed higher. They are also less likely to get some of the more obvious benefits of taxes (like welfare) and so they may be more inclined to see their taxes as too high. Lower income individuals and families pay a smaller percentage in taxes but it is a much larger fraction of what would be their "disposable" income. They may or may not see the things that result from taxes as benefiting them directly, but either way, taking $1000 from someone making $20k is a much more significant tax than is $20k from someone making $100k, so they may be inclined to say that their taxes are too high.

Moreover, what I feel about my personal taxes may be much different than how I feel about taxes as a whole. The wealthy or the poor may think their taxes are too high, but that overall taxes are too low. This brings about another possibility: do people base how they feel about their own taxes on how they view the tax code as a whole? Would a system that a large majority felt was fair result in a large majority feeling that they were taxed fairly, or would the personal outweigh the group and result in people saying their own taxes were too high even though they thought the system was fair?

Now I'm only scratching the surface here, but suffice to say: The poll linked above is absolutely without any real value.

On a personal note: I don't have any problem with my federal taxes (now that I bought a house they may even be too low), but I will make sure to get the full refund next year as I did this year. Also, I do not like the flat tax used by either the state of PA or the townships.

No comments: