As the April 15 tax deadline approaches, overall public views of the fairness of the nation’s tax system have changed only modestly since 2017, before passage of major tax legislation. However, partisan differences on tax fairness have increased considerably since then, and now are wider than at any point in at least two decades.
Two years ago, Republicans and Democrats had similar views of the fairness of the tax system. Today, 64% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say the present tax system is very or moderately fair; just half as many Democrats and Democratic leaners (32%) view the tax system as fair. The share of Republicans who say the tax system is fair has increased 21 percentage points since 2017. Over this period, the share of Democrats viewing the tax system as fair has declined nine points.
The survey by Pew Research Center, conducted March 20-25 among 1,503 adults, finds that more than a year after the new tax law was enacted, public approval remains relatively unchanged (36% approve of the tax law, while 49% disapprove). However, fewer Republicans strongly approve of the law than did so in January 2018.
About seven-in-ten Republicans (71%) approve of the tax law, including 43% who strongly approve. Early last year, about the same share of Republicans approved of the tax law (75%), but a majority (57%) strongly approved.
Most Democrats continue to express negative views of the tax law. Today, 79% of Democrats disapprove, including 59% who strongly disapprove.
Americans are about as likely to say they understand how the tax law affects them as was the case in January 2018. A majority of Americans say they understand how the tax law has affected them and their family “very well” (26%) or “somewhat well” (37%). However, a third say they understand the law’s impact not too well or not at all well.
The public’s overall frustrations with the federal tax system have changed little since April 2017, the survey finds.
Overall, about six-in-ten Americans say they are bothered “a lot” by the feeling that some corporations (62%) and wealthy people (60%) do not pay their fair share in taxes.
Fewer American express strong concerns about the complexity of the tax system (39% say they are bothered a lot by this), the amount they pay in taxes (27%) and whether poor people pay their fair share in taxes (16%).
The public’s views of the fairness of the U.S. economic system have changed little in recent years – and remain deeply divided along partisan lines. Currently, 63% of Americans say the “economic system unfairly favors powerful interests,” while just 34% say it is “generally fair to most Americans.” About twice as many Democrats (81%) as Republicans (40%) say the country’s economic system is unfair.
Similarly, opinions on whether corporate profits are excessive have been stable. A 56% majority says business corporations make too much profit, compared with 39% who say their profits are “fair and reasonable.” While 72% of Democrats say corporations make too much profit, only 38% of Republicans say the same.
Partisans close divisions on some concerns over the tax system as other divisions widen
While increasing shares of Democrats say they are bothered “a lot” by the feeling that some corporations and wealthy people do not pay their fair share in taxes (79% of Democrats say this about each), Republicans’ concerns over these issues have lessened.
Today, 42% of Republicans say they are bothered a lot by the feeling that some corporations do not pay their fair share of taxes (down from 55% in 2015). And just 37% of Republicans are bothered a great deal by the feeling that some wealthy people do not pay their fair share (49% said this in 2015).
Republicans’ concerns over the complexity of the tax system and how much they pay in taxes also have declined. About four-in-ten Republicans (39%) say they are bothered a lot by the complexity of the tax system, down 15 percentage points since 2015 and 10 points since 2017. Democrats’ views have changed little since 2015; today, 40% say they are bothered a lot by the complexity of the tax system.
There has been a modest decrease in the share of Republicans who say they are bothered a lot by the amount they pay in taxes (27% now, 35% two years ago). Over the past two years, there has been a comparable rise in the share of Democrats saying they are bothered a lot by how much they pay in taxes (28% now, 21% in 2017).
Stark differences in views of tax fairness between higher-income Republicans and Democrats
Today, about two-thirds of Republicans and Republican leaners (64%) say the present federal tax system is very or moderately fair; only about a third of Democrats and Democratic leaners (32%) say the same. In October 2017, there was not a significant gap in Republicans’ and Democrats’ views of the fairness of the tax system.
While Republicans and Democrats across income categories differ in their views of tax fairness, the gaps are widest – and the shift most pronounced – among those with family incomes of $75,000 or more. Currently, 68% of Republicans with incomes of at least $75,000 say the tax system is very or moderately fair, up from just 37% in 2017. By contrast, the share of Democrats who view the tax system as fair has declined 19 percentage points since then (from 40% to 21%).