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Here's What Upsets Americans About Taxes

By Daniel B. Kline – Updated Apr 17, 2017 at 4:18AM

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People are bothered by the tax system, but what bothers them may surprise you.

Most United States citizens see taxes as a fact of life, something that can't be avoided, or controlled. In many cases, according to a new study from Pew Research, they also view them as being unfair, a system rigged against the little guy in favor of big business and wealthy people.

"Among the public overall, 62% say they are bothered 'a lot,'" by the feeling that some corporations don't pay their fair share of taxes, and 60% say the same about some wealthy people not paying their fair share," Pew reported. That's only one way in which Pew's research, which involved interviews with 1,501 adults conducted between April 5-11, found that Americans took issue with the tax system.

A sign reading "nothing is certain but death and taxes"

Whether you agree with how much you must pay or not, you have to pay your taxes. Image source: Getty Images.

What did the survey say?

In a broad sense the majority of Americans don't find the tax system fair with 56% describing it "as either not too fair (29%) or not fair at all (27%)." Only 2% consider the system "very fair," while 40% think it's "moderately fair." In previous Pew surveys on the same subject in 2010 and 2015, opinion about the fairness of the U.S. tax system was evenly split between people thinking it's fair and people thinking it's not.

How people feel about the system's fairness only differs slightly based on their political affiliation. "Today, 54% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say the tax system is not too fair or not at all fair, up from 43% two years ago.," wrote Pew. "Most Republicans and Republican leaners (58%) also view the system as unfair; these views are little changed since 2015."

That's not to say that there are no differences between how Democrats and Republicans feel about why the system is unfair. Three quarters (75%) of left-leaning Americans are bothered "a lot" by the idea that some companies don't pay their fair share of taxes while only 44% of right-leaning voters feel that way. The numbers are about the same (76% vs. 40%) when it comes to the feeling that "some wealthy people don't pay their fair share," according to Pew.

Do Americans feel they pay enough?

Given how Americans view taxes and how they are paid, it's a bit surprising that Pew found that only a little over a quarter (27%) of taxpayers say that they are bothered a lot by the amount they personally pay in taxes.

"Just over half (54%) say they pay about the right amount in taxes, considering what they get from the federal government, while 40% say they pay more than their fair share," according to Pew. "Only 5% say they pay less than what they should."

In general, people making more money feel they are paying two much. Over half (52%) of people with annual family income over $100,000 or more felt that were paying more than their fair share. Only 30% of those with family income under $30,000 felt that way.

More Republicans (45%) feel they have to pay too much in taxes than Democrats (33%). That's a slightly smaller gap than Pew found two years ago when it was 48% of Republicans feeling that way compared to the same 33% of Democrats.

What does this mean?

While there are political differences in how Americans view taxes, more of us see the system as being unfair than don't. Why we see it that way varies, but it's fairly clear that the overall tax code could benefit from clarification and transparency to demonstrate that everyone, wealthy and poor, private citizens and corporate entities, are paying their fair share. Of course, "fair," is a subjective word, open to interpretation, but it seems clear we could get closer to the idea of fairness, even if we can't all agree on what fair would look like.

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