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Public’s Feeling on Taxes Has Distinct Divide: Pew Survey

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No one likes to pay taxes but come April 15 many Americans will do just that if they haven’t already, and more than half of them won’t think they’re paying too much. That’s just one of several surprising findings from a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center.

Fifty-three percent of the public say they’re paying the right amount in federal taxes given what they get in return from the government, while 40% say they’re paying more than their fair share, according to the survey which was conducted in late February. Only 27% say they are bothered “a lot” by what they pay in taxes.

But that’s not how they feel about the taxes corporations and wealthy Americans pay. Sixty-four percent say they are bothered “a lot” that some corporations don’t pay their fair share, and 61% share that sentiment about some wealthy people. Another 18% are bothered “some” by the amount of taxes some corporations and wealthy people pay.

Not surprisingly the view of the federal tax system breaks down along political lines and reflects a widening partisan divide. Fifty percent of Republicans say they are paying more than their fair share compared to 30% of Democrats. Three years ago the comparable numbers were 37% for Republicans and 38% for Democrats. There was no virtually no divide between the parties then; now many more Republicans believe they’re paying too much in taxes while fewer Democrats believe that.

A similar divide is seen between the way Republicans and Democrats view taxes paid by corporations and the wealthy, according to the Pew survey. More than 70% of Democrats—and more than 60% of Independents—say some corporations and wealthy Americans pay too little in taxes. Among Republicans 52% feel that way about corporate taxpayers and 45% hold that view about wealthy taxpayers.

Republicans are more concerned about the complexity of the tax system than Democrats: 53% versus 31%, and those with family incomes over $100,000 are the most concerned: 55%. It’s not surprising then that 66% of Republicans, especially conservative Republicans, favor an overhaul of the tax system compared to 48% of Democrats. In Pew’s 2011 survey the gap was just five points. Despite the political differences today 59% want Congress to “completely change the federal tax system,” according to the Pew Survey.

— Read more from 22 Days of Tax Planning Advice on ThinkAdvisor.