It’s Monday and your taxes are due tomorrow. If you’re not already depressed, this should do the trick.

No, actually, this is more complicated than the headline makes it seem. It’s true that most Americans think their taxes are fair, says Gallup. It’s also true that fewer Americans think so than used to. In Dubya’s first year as president, this question split 51/46 in favor of those who think they pay a fair share. Then the first of the Bush tax cuts passed. The next year this question split 58/37, and then in 2003 (the year of the second Bush tax cuts) it was 64/33 and stayed at 60 percent or above for the duration of Bush’s presidency. Only since O was sworn in has it begun to dip, diving to 55/42 last year after the Bush cuts sunset and dipping a tiny bit further this year to 54/41. Obama’s slowly building a backlash.

Or is he? How to square this circle?


I don’t know what to make of those independent numbers. I can understand feeling that your taxes are “fair” even if you think they’re too low. Some people may simply define “fair” in this context as not being made to pay more than they ought; by definition, then, if you think you should be paying 30 percent and you’re only paying 20, that qualifies as fair. To those people, only gross underpayment — five percent, say, instead of 30 — might rise to the level of “unfair.” How do you decide, though, that your taxes are fair if you think you’re paying too much? Is it an in-the-ballpark thing, i.e. you think you should be paying 30 percent and in reality you’re paying 35, which is a little high but not so much that you’d call it “unfair”? It’s weird to me that anyone would have such a precise sense of which marginal rate qualifies as fair and which doesn’t. Which makes me think that the opposite is true: These responses aren’t precise at all but rather knee-jerk reactions that needn’t be logically consistent. It’s like asking people if they think the feds spend too much, being told yes, and then discovering that there’s not a single item in the budget they’re willing to cut when you offer them options on how to reduce spending. “Do you pay too much in taxes?” “Sure!” “Is what you pay ‘fair’?” “Yeah, I … guess it’s basically fair.” Hmmmm.

Here’s the split by income. Same mystery with the lower class:


That’s easier to understand. The less-than-$30K group may simultaneously (a) feel that what they’re paying now is a too-heavy burden to them and (b) know that they pay a lower rate than any other income group, which they regard as inherently “fair.” Whatever the answer, though, this same phenomenon has been true of the entire population overall since the turn of the century: Every year since 2000, a majority has said their taxes are fair — and yet, with only two exceptions, every year a majority has also said that they’re paying too much. In fact, despite the tax cuts of the last decade, a majority said they were paying too much in every year of the Bush presidency. That’s easy to explain — the lopsided Democratic numbers on the fairness question is dragging up the rest of the population — but it doesn’t explain the independent numbers up above. Odd.

Exit question: Only five percent of Democrats think they amount of taxes they pay is too low? I feel like I’ve encountered every one of them on Twitter over the years.