David M Rothschild on Posted on

How do you feel about increasing income taxes for people making over $250,000 per year? We have been asking that question every week this year. We were interested to see if the response to this question (and 11 others) would change as the election progresses; while many questions in our study have both noisy and meaningful movement, this question has proved incredibly stable. The vast majority of American voters strongly support increasing taxes at the moderate threshold of $250,000; more interesting is that, despite lower taxes for high income being one of the most durable and defining policy positions of the Republican establishment, roughly half of Republican voters strongly support increased income taxes.

This study is done using non-traditional mobile-based opt-in samples. It takes a careful understanding of both the data collection and analytics to make non-traditional polling accurate. We believe we have a cracked that with the modeling and post-stratification we do with data collected through Pollfish’s mobile polling system. This type of polling is cheaper, flexible, and more timely than traditional polling. And, even if you are concerned about the accuracy, consistent methodology makes the changes in levels verifiably meaningful.

We have 30 samples over the course of the election year and each sample says the exact same thing: roughly 60% of the voting population strongly supports raising income taxes for people making over $250,000 per year. We gave the respondents seven possible answers: favor very strongly, favor strongly, favor weakly. Neither favor nor oppose, oppose weakly, oppose strongly, oppose very strongly. The line that runs on 60%, labeled strong support, is the sum of the first two possible answers. Roughly 30% of people answer either: weak support, neither, or weak opposition. Just 10% of voters strongly oppose raising income taxes on high income earners.

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On August 8, 2016 Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump, revised his tax plan to put the top tax bracket at 33%. That is up from his original proposal of 25%. But, it is still way down from the current top tax bracket of 39.6%. Even with Trump’s moderation on the issue, he still running on a platform of decreased taxes, where the voters are heavily in favor of increased taxes.

This finding is not driven by Democrats or Democrats and Independents, Republicans are consistently around 50% for strong support of raising income taxes. Lower taxes on high income may be the universal belief that defines the Republican establishment. As they quibble over foreign policy (Trump is taking a big step away from the neo-conservative policy of interventionist war) and social issues (the party is racked by pro and anti-discrimination against LGBT), the strong belief in “trickledown economics” is really what holds together the coalition. No one fights against it. Well, except that the voters do not support that policy.

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I never claim that our levels are perfect, but they are not off by that much. First, even if this data is a few point off in either direction, the response is overwhelming in favor of increased taxes. This is not a close poll. Second, stability of the responses, sample after sample, is a good sign of an accurate reading of the popular sentiment. Third, while this finding is surprising, if you listen to party leaders and pundits, it is not surprising when you examine similar questions from traditional polling. Gallup asked people every year from 1992-2016 if Upper-Income people are paying their FAIR share in federal taxes, paying too MUCH, or paying too LITTLE? In the past few years about 60% of people reported too LITTLE!

This work is joint with Tobias Konitzer and Sam Corbett-Davies: PhD candidates at Stanford University in communications and computer science, respectively