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Obama tax increase misperception grows

Topics: Barack Obama , misperception , Taxes

Earlier this year, I noted a CBSNews.com post showing that 24% of Americans thought President Obama had raised taxes for most Americans and 53% believed taxes had been kept the same. The numbers, which were drawn from a CBS/New York Times poll conducted February 5-10, were even worse among Tea Party supporters -- 44% thought taxes had been increased and 46% thought taxes were the same. In reality, Obama cut taxes for 95% of working families.

The latest CBS/New York Times poll, which was conducted April 5-12, asks the same question:

So far, do you think the Obama Administration has increased taxes for most Americans, decreased taxes for most Americans, or have they kept taxes about the same for most Americans?

The findings show that misperceptions about changes to income taxes under Obama have gotten worse. The percentage of respondents who think taxes have gone up under Obama has increased from 24% to 34% among the general public and from 44% to 64% among Tea Party supporters:


It's the all-too-predictable result of combining misleading rhetoric suggesting Obama has raised taxes with people's biases toward their pre-existing beliefs.

Update 4/29 1:26 PM: Per Gary Wagner's comment, I should clarify two points. First, my interpretation of the CBS/NYT question, which I think is a fair one, is that the correct response is that taxes have decreased. While some taxes have been increased, there has been a net decrease in federal taxes for most Americans under Obama. Also, some respondents may anticipate the likely increase in taxes for individuals making more than $200,000 and families making more than $250,000 in 2011 as having already taken place, but this increase (a) has not happened, (b) is provided for under current law and is not the direct result of legislation endorsed by Obama (though he has declined to extend the Bush tax cuts in this income group), and (c) will not increase taxes for most Americans.

[Cross-posted at brendan-nyhan.com]



The question asked was, "So far, do you think the Obama Administration has increased taxes for most Americans, decreased taxes for most Americans, or have they kept taxes about the same for most Americans?"

Why is there any debate over that question? Of course he has raised taxes on everyone. There is a medical device tax in the healthcare bill that everyone will pay except those who never buy bandaids, condoms, or tampons.

He also raised tobacco tax - which hits every income level.

So why all of this mocking of people who think Obama raised their taxes? He did. And not just these two. There are dozens more that were snuck into bills that Obama has signed.

That doesn't even include all the tax increases that he put on businesses that will be passed on to the consumer. Do you think people aren't smart enough to know that when taxes go up on anything that everyone pays them?

Who should be mocked are those people who believe him when he says he didn't.

I don't get it. Why is this an issue. The real question is why do so many people think he didn't raise taxes on most people? How can anyone possibly believe that?

Plus, the question asked does not specify if he raised taxes that have already taken effect. Everyone is away of the enormouse tax increases he has signed into law that are yet to take effect.

He raised taxes by almost a trillion dollars. How could anyone possibly think he didn't raise taxes?



One more note:

You said, "The findings show that misperceptions about changes to the tax code under Obama have gotten worse"

The responses to that question shows no such thing. It didn't ask anything about the tax code. It didn't specify income tax. It asked if he raised taxes. Period. You are making a specific targetted conclusion based on a vague question.

I say that you have presented an entirely false conclusion based on the data given. I would welcome being corrected if I am wrong.



You really think that minor cigarette and medical device taxes cancel our the hundreds of billions of dollars of direct and indirect tax relief that Obama and the Democrats passed?

Wait, of course you do. Because you're a partisan hack.


Westwoodnc Westwoodnc:

There's a libtard la-la land when if taxes are raised on you, it's not really a tax increase for the sole reason that Obama signed it.



The tax on cigarettes will fund more than 32 Billion. Please explain the hundreds of billions of direct and INDIRECT tax decreases.


Westwoodnc Westwoodnc:

The tax on cigarettes is borne primarily by the poor, i.e, the same people that Liar Obama said he won't raise taxes on. Please explain the hundreds of billions of direct and INDIRECT tax INCREASES


Field Marshal:


The poll question asks if he has increased taxes. The poll does not specify income taxes, just taxes.

I think many realize that taxes on many things have gone up-they have already been mentioned above- not to mention the tax increases to come in the HCR and cap and trade bills that have passed.

So, again, to not make a distinction between income taxes and just a generic taxes makes the poll less robust and technically, the people saying increased, are not incorrect. Not to mention all the news that starting in 2011, INCOME tax rates will be going up substantially.



The stimulus package alone has $288 billion in tax decreases - that would be 9 times your quoted increase for the cigarette tax.

The medical device tax doesn't go into effect for several years so that would logically go in your future tax argument not in your "So far" argument.

Long term total taxes will probably be up as a result of recently enacted laws but so far taxes are clearly lower.




Did the poll say, "excluding minor taxes"? Did the poll say, "excluding medical device taxes"? No, the poll said taxes. Did obama rais your taxes. He did. So anyone who answered that their taxes did NOT go up doesn't know what they are talking about.

Those hundreds of billion in tax increases? There are over $500 billion in the healthcare bill alone. Who do you think are going to pay those taxes? Corporations? Corporations don't pay taxes - consumers do. They are buried in the cost of goods and as such are an indirect tax.

Case in point? I live near the largest manufacturer of prostetics in the country. They have to pay a 3.8% tax on gross sales of every prosthetic device they sell. They just raised their prices 4% across the board to pay for it. Who is paying that tax? Zimmer or the people buying their products?

Brendan, I appreciate that you modified the finding to remove "changes to the tax code" but you still say, "changes to income taxes.". That is still a false assertion. The question does restrict itself to income taxes. It only asks about taxes.

It also doesn't ask, "what was the net effect of tax cuts compared to tax increases". You can't reach that conclusion on the basis of the way this question was worded either.

Even if the net effect was lower taxes, which I think is still false, that isn't what CBS asked people.

Ask me, "Did Obama cut taxes" and I would say yes. Ask me, "Did Obama raise taxes" and I would say yes. Both are true.

If you asked me, "Did Obama raise your income taxes", I would say no (but I'm still not sure how my gross income went down, my deductions went up, and my refund is lower). As far as I know he didn't change my income tax rates.




The poll didn't specify, "this year", or "several years from now". It asked if Obama increased taxes on the average american family and he did.

You can't ask a question that vague and generic on a poll and then start applying conditions to it.

You want to argue that "so far" means that the tax went into effect this year? No, it doesn't. He signed the bill and he raised taxes. He did that this year, so if you want to fall back on "so far", then he HAS raised taxes, "so far".

This is important because people who say that Obama raised our taxes are mocked and derided as idiots, fools, and partisan hacks. But the fools are those who say he did not raise taxes.




your argument that the question is vague and might be interpreted differently by different people is valid. I see "So Far" and the rest of the question written in the past tense as relating the current situation to what the current situation would be without the passage of recent laws. Others may read it as you have to mean that a respondent is supposed to judge how current actions may affect future taxes.

My guess is that your interpretation of the question was not the dominate one of the respondents - but I obviously don't have any evidence for that.

On the other hand, the follow up question in the poll about the level of income tax paid by most households does demonstrate a clear public misperception.



It does seem that the poll question could be interpreted in several ways. That being said, I would have expected respondents to interpret "taxes" as being "income taxes". Thus the recent controversy that 47% of Americans were paying no [income] taxes. At the very least, the question implies direct federal taxes that can be measured such as income/social security/medicare.

Direct federal tax burden to individuals is stable to reduced. Reductions include tax rebates and deductions in the stimulus package. But I also noticed that overall tax burden for adjusted income was lower this year than last (at least for my bracket).

Higher income taxes on high income earners, as well as corporate taxes (or ending of loopholes) could increase consumer costs. But it's actually quite difficult to calculate those costs since they require micro and macroeconomic analyses. Increased corporate costs are not always directed 100% to consumers, as opposed to the example noted by Gary. In fact, some companies have continued to provide rebates and incentives to consumers in the current economic climate.

In conclusion, the poll tends to support the concept of public misperceptions.

[Note: indeed, cigarette taxes are regressive. But if those taxes reduce tobacco-related disease and fund healthcare to deal with such illnesses, then on average they may be economically beneficial to low income earners.]



It's all splitting hairs. There are hundreds of taxes. I don't agree that when you ask a person about taxes that they immediately jump to the conclusion that you mean income taxes. I refuse to believe that I am the only person who thinks that way.

I am willing to bet that if the word "income" was inserted in that question before of each occurrence of the word "taxes" you would get a significantly different result.

That is especially true because this very point is often discussed at tea party events. A speaker will say, "Obama likes to say he lowered your taxes. But he forgot to tell you all the ways he raised your taxes" and then they will go through a very long list of tax increases.

So you are trying to apply an assumption that non-tea party people might make and apply it to the tea party people who will almost certainly make a different assumption. They are already in a mindset to be thinking about all those taxes that Obama raised.

This poll asks an intentionally vague question and then tries to apply it to conclusions based on assumptions of what assumptions the respondent might have made.

The poll does not support a misconception because saying that Obama raised taxes is not a misconception.

What this poll might support is that tea-party understand the concept of the total tax burden whereas the non tea party people are focused on only income taxes. But that is making a conclusion based on an assumption of assumptions. That's very shaky ground.



Frank Newport said something on his blog recently (Tuesday, April 27) that is worth repeating:

"Rather than assuming a priori that the representative has the truth, the representative can take stock of why so many people he represents see the truth differently."

He was discussing Obama, but perhaps this would also be good advice to pollsters who decide which is the correct response to a question, even when the question itself is open to interpretation.



The link to Frank Newport's blog.



The question asks about whether Obama raised, lowered, or did nothing to taxes for most Americans. The question was not, "Did Obama raise some taxes for somebody?" The most basic interpretation is, what was the net effect on an average American's tax burden due to Obama's policies? However, it is true that respondents might interpret taxes in different ways. I'll suggest 3 possibilities.

1) "Tax"= income tax. Most tax debates center on income taxes. Moreover, we all recently experienced April 15th, where we calculate our taxes, ignoring Social Security and Medicare taxes. Respondents in this category should have answered "lowered" if they received tax reductions in the form of rebates or for those that don't consider such rebates to be tax reduction, "no change". I'll agree with Gary that this would probably be a minority of respondents.

2) "Tax" equals all federal taxes and fees paid by citizens to the federal government including income taxes, medicare taxes, social security, national park fees, etc. For most Americans, the answer would be "no change" or "lowered" unless I've misintepreted the policies.

3) "Tax" equals taxes paid by individuals and any increased costs paid by individuals due to increased taxes on corporations and high income earners- that is taxes passed onto consumers (see Gary's examples above). In this case the answer could be "lowered', "no change", or "increased" based on various economic analyses. The other way of stating this position would be, "Obama provided tax relief as part of the stimulus and didn't raise my taxes. But he raised taxes significantly on somebody else which might effect me."

However, increased costs of goods due to increased corporate taxes (when that occurs) is not a tax on an individual. It may feel like paying a tax, but strictly speaking the individual is not being taxed. It is a cost to the individual. Semantics? Maybe, but it is what it is. This is an important distinction, though, as the cost of goods depend on many factors (taxes, wages, salaries, interest payments, health care charges, etc.) so it's difficult to know what increased costs are due to corporate taxes for any individual item. Furthermore, increased tax costs could be offset by other decreased costs due to other federal policies. Now, if the question had asked, "So far, do you think the Obama Administration policies have increased costs for most Americans, decreased costs for most Americans, or have they kept costs about the same for most Americans?", then Gary's interpretation would be correct.

Now perhaps there are increased taxes I'm not aware of that I am directly paying to the federal government. I'd appreciate getting that list, because right now I'd need to say that my tax burden decreased slightly.



My tax burden has also decreased. It has for the past 3 years in a row. So I don't see any tax increase. The basic argument I hear from tea party types is that democratic policies will inevitably raise taxes, which may be true. Although republican policies probably would too. You can't have deficit reduction without some taxes. Impossible, unless you want to make draconian spending cuts on things that no congressman would support.


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