By Peter Schroeder - 02/27/12 10:00 AM EST
Three-quarters of likely voters believe the nation’s top earners should pay lower, not higher, tax rates, according to a new poll for The Hill.
The big majority opted for a lower tax bill when asked to choose specific rates; precisely 75 percent said the right level for top earners was 30 percent or below.
The current rate for top earners is 35 percent. Only 4 percent thought it was appropriate to take 40 percent, which is approximately the level that President Obama is seeking from January 2013 onward.
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.
But The Hill poll found that a dramatically different picture emerges when voters are asked to specify the “most appropriate” rates.
“If you ask people, ‘Should families with more than $250,000 pay a higher tax rate?’ you would get a lot of yeses on that,” said Clint Stretch, managing principal of tax policy at Deloitte Tax LLP. “And yet … you’ve got 75 percent of the answers are suggesting high-income people should have a lower tax rate, and that’s an astonishing result.”
One possible explanation is voters may not know how much the nation’s top earners are already being taxed. The poll did not ask voters to identify current tax rates before saying what rate they favored.
“It might be that people are underestimating how much the rich pay now,” said Bruce Bartlett, a former Reagan adviser and Treasury official under President George H.W. Bush.
The data could indicate a challenge to Obama’s push to increase taxes on the wealthy. The White House’s fiscal 2013 budget request included a number of tax hikes targeting the nation’s wealthiest. In addition to the “Buffett Rule,” it calls for raising taxes on family income above $250,000 in 2013, and returning the top individual rate to 39.6 percent.
But as Obama continues his push to allow the higher-end Bush tax cuts to expire at the end of the year, the poll suggests it might be difficult to persuade voters to buy in when it comes to hard numbers.
Stretch said the poll suggests a “vulnerability on liberal policy, for lack of a better word.”
Republicans were more likely than Democrats to support lower tax rates for the wealthy, but voters in both parties solidly supported lower rates compared to current law. Eighty-one percent of Republicans favored tax rates below current levels, compared to 70 percent of Democrats.
The Hill Poll, conducted by Pulse Opinion Research of 1,000 likely voters, also found broad support for lower rates across income groups. The group most supportive of lowering tax rates on the wealthy below current rates made between $20,000 and $40,000 a year; 81 percent supported tax rates of 30 percent or lower.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) proposed last year to lower the top individual tax rate to 25 percent. Twenty-three percent of those polled said that rate would be the most appropriate for top earners.
Of the income groups surveyed, those making more than $100,000 a year were the least supportive of lower rates, with just 66 percent supporting income tax rates of 30 percent or lower. That group was most likely to support income tax rates of 40 percent. Eleven percent of those voters said a 40 percent tax rate was most appropriate.
On the corporate front, 11 percent favored the current corporate tax rate of 35 percent, while 73 percent thought it should be lower.
On this front, the White House and Republicans are of the same mind. Obama recently rolled out a corporate tax reform plan that would lower rates to 28 percent while eliminating loopholes, while House Republicans have pushed a plan lowering it to 25 percent. Forty-two percent of those polled said a corporate tax rate ranging from 25 to 30 percent would be most appropriate.