Poll: Majority of Americans like the idea of taxing the rich more

Pundits dismissed the president’s jobs and deficit reduction proposals as political grandstanding, but the American people appear to approve of many of the president’s ideas, according to a Gallup poll released today.

The survey of 1,004 adults — only about 44 percent of whom were Republicans or Republican-leaning independents — showed significant majorities support a majority of the individual components of the president’s plan.

For example, 70 percent favor increasing taxes on some corporations by eliminating certain tax deductions and 66 percent favor increasing income taxes on individuals earning at least $200,000 and families earning at least $250,000.

The first part of that is fine. I’m all for true tax reform. I like the idea of closing loopholes to ultimately lower taxes on corporations to increase their global competitiveness, as Paul Ryan says. But the second part is troubling. Gallup didn’t ask questions to determine the respondents’ general knowledge of the tax code, though, so it’s impossible to know whether those polled would still approve of increasing taxes on the rich if they knew the top 10 percent of earners pays 70 percent of federal income taxes or that the top 1 percent pays 38 percent while nearly half of U.S. households pay no taxes at all.

Majority support for other of the president’s nonsensical proposals are even more disheartening. Take this one: 73 percent support giving tax breaks to companies hiring people who have been unemployed for more than six months. Sounds good on its face, but, as Ed has said on his show, it’s a simple question of incentives: A tax break of a couple of thousand dollars will not motivate companies to hire workers at a salary of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. The tax break will go only to those who would have hired new workers in the first place. That means more federal government spending, but not necessarily more jobs.

Large majorities also support providing more funds to hire teachers, police officers and firefighters (75 percent) and providing more funds for public works projects, including making repairs to more than 30,000 schools (72 percent). The wording of the questions might have something to do with those results — far harder to oppose hiring more “teachers, police officers and firefighters” than “state employees” and to oppose school repairs than other types of public works spending. It also perturbs me that the question suggests the federal government can “provide” more funds, when, in fact, all it can do is redistribute funds. If it was a question of “free money” or “Obama money from his stash,” as one supporter so memorably put it long ago, then, sure, I’d be a fan of hiring more teachers and making school repairs, too. But if it’s a question of adding to the debt that’s dragging down our economy in the first place and of penalizing the very people best positioned to create jobs and grow the economy, then I’d rather we not spend more money we don’t have, thank you very much.

The only proposal a majority of respondents did not support was the extension of the payroll tax cut — probably because Gallup called that what it actually is, “reducing Social Security taxes for workers and employers.” Forty-seven percent approved of that idea, while 49 percent disapproved. Does that mean the American people are aware SS is bound to go belly up eventually and don’t want to hasten the day? Or do they just see “Social Security” in a question and resist any kind of change to the program? I’d like to at least take that as a hopeful sign that the electorate is beginning to understand the precarious position of our entitlement programs. The results of the rest of the poll were depressing enough.