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Do people really want to soak the rich?

Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review Online questions reporting about new poll results on taxation.

Ben White writes in Politico that “when it comes to soaking the rich, the American public is increasingly on board.” After citing two polls in which supermajorities of the public favor higher taxes on rich people, he claims, “The numbers suggest the political ground upon which the 2020 presidential campaign will be fought is shifting in dramatic ways, reflecting the rise in inequality in the United States and growing concerns in the electorate about the fairness of the American system.”

The polls he cites are indeed good news for advocates of higher taxes on the rich. But they don’t mean that the public is “increasingly” in favor of such taxes, that the ground is shifting, or that increasing economic inequality is driving a change in people’s views — because a poll snapshot doesn’t demonstrate that any change in views has occurred. You’d need to look at responses over time to similar poll questions to assess whether one has.

My American Enterprise Institute colleague Karlyn Bowman notes that Gallup has been asking whether its respondents think that “upper income people” are paying too much, too little, or their fair share for more than a quarter century. Since 1992, the percentage of the public that thinks they pay too little has fallen, from 77 percent to 62 percent. The percentage that thinks they pay their fair share has risen from 16 to 26 percent, and the percentage that thinks that they pay too much has risen from 4 to 10 percent.

Yes, you read the numbers correctly. If the polls are accurate, people are significantly less interested in soaking the rich than they were a quarter century ago.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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