Poll: Solid majority of Americans support raising highest income tax rate to 70%

Confession: For the last few years, every time I’ve seen a new “Pressure building under Yellowstone” headline on Drudge, I’ve felt a little more okay about it.

I think this finally tipped me over from the “mildly against eruption” camp to the “mildly in favor” one.

Probably not going to reach “strongly in favor” until Trump declares himself emperor, though. I.e. four to six months from now.

In the latest The Hill-HarrisX survey, which was conducted Jan. 12 and 13 after the newly elected congresswoman called for the U.S. to raise its highest tax rate to 70 percent, found that a sizable majority of registered voters, 59 percent, supports the idea

Women support the idea by a 62-38 percent margin. A majority of men back it as well, 55 percent to 45 percent. The proposal is popular in all regions of the country with a majority of Southerners backing it by a 57 to 43 percent margin. Rural voters back it as well, 56 percent to 44 percent.

Increasing the highest tax bracket to 70 percent garners a surprising amount of support among Republican voters. In the Hill-HarrisX poll, 45 percent of GOP voters say they favor it while 55 percent are opposed to it.

The poll didn’t delve into specifics, it seems (Update: See below), but it may be that the public is more radical on it than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose comments on “60 Minutes” inspired it. AOC wasn’t proposing a 70 percent marginal rate until the 10,000,000th dollar in income. The Hill-Harris poll, however, didn’t specify income amounts. Currently the top U.S. marginal rate (37 percent) kicks in at just $612,000 for a married couple. There may be some people in the majority of this poll, in other words, who are prepared to effectively double the marginal rate on households earning just five percent or so of the target number proposed by Ocasio-Cortez.

Which is a long way of saying there are a lot of socialists in America 2019.

Or maybe it’s more complicated. One of our two major parties devotes most of its effort on taxes to protecting the upper class. The other devotes most of its messaging on taxes to implying, without ever clearly stating, that the rich and the rich alone can singlehandedly fund pretty much any social welfare program the country might throw at them. Put those two dynamics together and you’re destined to have many Americans conclude that the upper class is sitting on an inexhaustible stash of cash that could transform American society, with no similar contribution asked of other classes, if only it could be pried from their icy fingers. Under those circumstances you’d be a sucker not to support a 70 percent rate too. Never mind that the rich will find ways in the tax laws to shelter much of their wealth; never mind that an exorbitant tax rate on one class is destined to condition the public to accepting higher rates on other classes that can less afford to pay; never mind the economic risk in lower productivity as the government hoovers more capital out of the private sector. Never mind that there are big differences between the ultra-rich, whom AOC has in mind, and well-to-do professionals. Just take the money. They can afford it!

Public support for higher tax rates isn’t new. In 2017 Reuters found that 53 percent of Americans “strongly agree” that the wealthy should face higher tax rates while another 23 percent “somewhat agreed.” And yet, just three years earlier, a separate poll found that 62 percent support a flat tax, the opposite of progressive taxation. The average rate favored by the majority in the flat-tax poll was … 15 percent. There’s no way to square that data with the data in today’s new survey except to say that Americans want conflicting things on taxes. They like the idea of a simple tax code. A single rate that applies across the board appeals intuitively to their sense of equality and fairness. But when you ask if the rich specifically should pay more, they reason that the rich can certainly afford to do so, so why not?

Emily Ekins made another good point in writing about this for Reason in 2014:

One explanation for why Americans say they want both a flat tax and to raise taxes on the wealthy is that 66 percent of Americans are under the distinct impression that the middle class is literally paying a larger share of their income in taxes than the wealthy. Rhetoric throughout the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns made many Americans believe they were paying more in taxes than the wealthy. Reason-Rupe recently asked Americans who favor these tax increases to explain in their own words why they wanted the wealthy to pay more. While many of the reasons were about the rich being better able to afford higher taxes, many revealed that they believe the rich actually pay less taxes than they do…

In reality, noted Ekins, the wealthy pay the highest effective rate of any income group. They also supply the majority of federal revenue from income taxes despite their small numbers:

I don’t know how the average American imagines that graph in their mind’s eye before seeing the actual numbers but I’m sure they don’t imagine it looks like that. As Ekins says, many people seem to believe that the rich are actually paying less in taxes every year than the typical middle-class person — a crazy-but-not-that-crazy mistaken impression driven by Democratic class-war messaging and Republican preoccupation with investors and entrepreneurs. If you were somehow convinced that millionaires not only can afford to pay much more but that they’re paying less to the federal government each year than you yourself are, then sure. Seventy percent of marginal income seems like the least they could do.

In lieu of an exit question, read this enjoyable piece from The Hill about red- and purple-state Democrats in the Senate getting annoyed with all the AOC hype. Says Jon Tester, “Flavors of the month come and go. She’s a flavor of the month right now. My guess is she’ll come, she’ll go.”

Update: My mistake. Matt Sheffield of The Hill emails to say that their poll did mention a specific income threshold for a 70 percent tax rate. Quote: “Currently the top tax rate is 37%. Would you favor or oppose a tax proposal that would apply a 70% rate to the 10 millionth dollar and beyond for individuals making $10 million a year or more in reportable income?” Sorry for the error.

David Strom 6:41 PM on September 26, 2022