The most immediate thing to take away from this Hill poll is what the article on the subject leads with: which is, that something like three-fourths of the American electorate thinks that that the tax rate for the wealthy should be lower than it actually is (about the same proportion has a similar attitude towards similar tax rates for corporations). So far, so good – but then there was this frankly laughable paragraph from the Hill article:
The new data seem to run counter to several polls that have found support for raising taxes on high-income earners. In an Associated Press-GfK poll released Friday, 65 percent said they favored President Obama’s “Buffett Rule” that millionaires should pay at least 30 percent of their income. And a Pew poll conducted in June found 66 percent of adults favored raising taxes on those making more than $250,000 as a way to tackle the deficit.
The bolding is mine – and is, of course, nonsense. And you can tell that quite handily by looking at the questions. In order:
- The Hill: The questions was “Most Appropriate Top Tax Rate For Families earning $250,000 or More?” (75% said 30% or less). Note, again, that the poll didn’t tell people what the current rate was, and that the American public has been told for far too long that ‘the rich’ and ‘the corporations’ aren’t paying their ‘fair share.’ So said voters naturally picked a 30% maximum tax rate, since it is a bit more than the 25% or so that they’re paying. It’d be no doubt surprising to the poll recipients that 30% would be an absolute joy to the average small business owner. Or that there are a lot of small business owners that would get hit by a soak-the-rich initiative.
- AP-GFK: The relevant question there was “Please tell me if you would favor, oppose or neither favor nor oppose a law requiring that all Americans with incomes of one million dollars or more pay at least 30 percent of their income in taxes?” …Which implies that those Americans currently aren’t. Which is probably why 65% of responders decided to support the notion in that poll; one wonders what the results would have been if it had been mentioned that people with that kind of income have a marginal tax rate of 35%.
- Pew: I presume that this was the poll in question. And the question in question? “Raise the income tax rate on incomes over $250,000 a year.” …Yes, that would get 66%; and no, that does not actually presume any knowledge of what the actual tax rates were.
Do you see where this is going? Those questions are not identical, or even semantically similar. The first poll asked “What, specifically, should rich people pay in taxes?” The second insinuated (falsely) “Rich people aren’t paying enough taxes. Is that fair?” And the third demagogued “Should rich people pay more taxes?” The important thing to consider here is that these results are not paradoxical: if you don’t know what somebody is actually paying in taxes then there’s nothing stopping you from thinking that they should be paying more. And there’s certainly nothing stopping you from having an erroneous idea of what they’re paying in the first place.
And that is an indictment of, among other things, media/research organizations like The Hill, The AP, and Pew. Because in a better universe I would not have had to walk people through this.
Moe Lane (crosspost)