NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 10, 1996

A recent opinion poll conducted for Reader's Digest contains some startling implications for those who set the nation's tax policies. Respondents in all economic, racial and ideological categories answered with astounding unanimity: taxes on everyone are too high.

Here are some of the findings:

  • The maximum tax burden that Americans think a family of four should bear is 25 percent of its total income.
  • That figure includes total taxes levied by all levels of government and through all tax programs -- including income, Social Security, sales and property taxes.
  • Some 68 percent said their total tax payments were too high.

And dissatisfaction with the tax burden has been growing.

  • As recently as 1961, Americans were equally divided on the question of whether taxes were "too high" or "about right" -- 46 percent in each category.
  • But by 1994, 66 percent were dissatisfied and 30 percent thought their taxes were fair.
  • Casting aside class-warfare rhetoric, respondents earning less than $30,000 per year agreed with other income groups that 25 percent was the maximum tax burden that would be fair for a family of four earning $200,000 per year.
  • Currently, a family earning $200,000 now pays an average 39 percent of its total income in taxes.

What was so astonishing to the pollsters and the poll sponsors was the degree of unanimity among all groups. Women agreed with men. Blacks agreed with whites. Low earners agreed with high earners. The young agreed with the old. Those with limited education agreed with the more highly educated. Even Republicans, Democrats and Independents agreed that 25 percent of whatever income was the maximum any family should have to pay in total taxes.

Source: Rachel Wildavsky (Reader's Digest), "How Fair Are Our Taxes?" Wall Street Journal, January 10, 1996.


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