Opinion: John McCain, income taxes and you

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This is, after all, Tax Day, and many of you are probably in line at the Post Office, or still printing out your tax returns and planning the 11:55 p.m. drive to the drop-off box. But John McCain is thinking about you, and wants you to know that if a Democrat is elected president, ‘you can be certain your tax rate will increase across the board,’ according to a fund-raising pitch that went out this morning.

But according to the folks at the Gallup Poll, only about half of Americans feel they pay too much in taxes, raising questions about whether banging the tax drum will help McCain (though it could help pry a few more dollars from the hands of antitax supporters). The details are on the Gallup site, but this summary graph wraps it all up:

‘Notably, the 10-point rise in the percentage saying their taxes were too high from April 1994 (56%) to December 1994 (66%) coincided with the 1994 midterm congressional campaign and election, in which the Republican Party championed an antitax theme in its successful ‘Contract With America’ strategy. Dissatisfaction with taxes remained high until January 2003 -- after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and just before the start of the Iraq war -- when it dipped to 47%. It has continued to remain relatively low (with no more than 53% saying their taxes are too high) in each subsequent year. However, whether that is because of the impact on public attitudes of 9/11, of the U.S. involvement in Iraq, or of recent tax policies is unclear.’

The ‘recent tax policies’ likely refer to the Bush tax cuts, which McCain initially opposed (as do both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama) but that he now wants to make permanent. But the poll also reports that only 43% of respondents thought the middle class paid too much in taxes -- suggesting Clinton’s and Obama’s promises to lighten the middle-class tax burden might not resonate that well, either.


Overall, 60% thought that the amount of tax they were paying this year was fair, and 35% said it was not fair. So while the economy will likely be an issue through the fall election, it doesn’t look like taxes will take up much debate time.

-- Scott Martelle