An exquisitely delicious data set, courtesy of The Hill's polling team. We've heard Democrats, and especially the president, prattle on about "fair shares" and "millionaires and billionaires," since...forever, really. During the debt fight, Obama repeatedly demanded a "balanced approach" to debt reduction, and regularly cited polls that showed that most voters supported a tax hike on the wealthy as part of any compromise package. I specifically recall him claiming that even a majority of Republicans supported such tax increases. (All of these assertions were dubious at the time, and were offset by contradictory polls). Regardless, we'll undoubtedly hear a lot more of this sort of rhetoric as the campaign wears on. Class envy is one of the few pages left in their playbook this cycle. Here's how it will go: President Obama will roll up his sleeves (this is how we know he's connecting with the common man, you see) during taxpayer-funded campaign stops and invoke his "fair share" talking points. His supporters will applaud, and the general concept will poll decently -- after all, it's easy to support tax increases on other people. But when Obama insists that the wealthiest Americans need to pay their "fair share," a lot of the Americans who nod in agreement have a very different idea of what that phrase actually means. In fact, the vast majority of Americans' sense of fairness would dictate lowering marginal income tax rates on the rich, compared to both current policy and Obama's proposals:
Three-quarters of likely voters believe the nation’s top earners should pay lower, not higher, tax rates, according to a new poll for The Hill. The big majority opted for a lower tax bill when asked to choose specific rates; precisely 75 percent said the right level for top earners was 30 percent or below. The current rate for top earners is 35 percent. Only 4 percent thought it was appropriate to take 40 percent, which is approximately the level that President Obama is seeking from January 2013 onward.
What would constitute an appropriately "fair" rate for top earners? Here's a breakdown of the national survey respondents' answers:
- Rate under 20%: 21%
- 20%: 17%
- 25% 23%
- 30%: 14%
- 35% 13%
- 40%: 4%
- Over 45%: 2%
Wow, wow, wow. These numbers change the entire debate. It's that simple. When many Americans agree that their wealthy countrymen should fork over their fair share to Uncle Sam, most of them think that figure ought to be in the ballpark of 20-30 percent. Under current policy, the top bracket pays a 35 percent rate. Less than one-fifth of Americans think that number is fair...because it's too high. Under Obama's dreadful new budget, the top tier of taxpayers would pay an effective rate of nearly 45 percent (which includes a 39.6% marginal income tax rate + the new Obamacare surtax + itemized deduction eliminations). According to this poll, fully 98 percent of Americans view this level of taxation as unfair. Think about that.
This information offers Republicans additional arrows in their debating quiver moving forward. First, it's crucial that they continue to explain why appeals to fairness do not help formulate smart tax policy. The United States does not face a $16 national debt because of a revenue shortage; spending -- past, present, and especially future -- is the problem. We need leaders who will control government spending, reform entitlement programs, and implement policies that will grow the economy. Growth, not fairness, is the key -- a truth that most Americans understand. Raising taxes on successful Americans and job creators might make a few people feel good for a moment, but it does absolutely nothing to foster the growth we desperately need. To grow the American economic pie, we need private enterprise creating jobs and expanding. We emphatically do not need the federal government confiscating more resources to feed Washington's insatiable appetite. That's the principled economic argument to advance.
However, conservatives can now follow up these points with the spectacular observation that even if Democrats are correct in pursuing their "fairness" obsession, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid's idea of fairness is wildly out of step with most voters' notion of the concept. In light of this information, here's how Republicans should talk about fairness:
"Many of you may agree with President Obama's push to require wealthy Americans to pay their fair share in taxes. What you may not know is that the top 1 percent of Americans already pay nearly 40 percent of all income taxes in this country, and the the top ten percent of Americans pay nearly 70 percent of that pot. Almost exactly half of the population pays zero income tax -- a number that is inflated by chronicly high unemployment that persists despite Obama's $825 Billion stimulus program. Something else you may not know is that under today's law, the top income bracket pays a 35 percent marginal income rate -- which 4/5 of Americans already say is too much. In our tax-and-spend president's mind, 'fairness' means raising that rate to 40 percent. And that's not counting a slew of other increases he has in mind. A measly four percent of Americans think that level of taxation would be fair. So it seems like fairness is in the eye of the beholder, and the vast majority of beholders reject Obama's job-killing, economy-damaging tax hike proposals as unfair."
I'll leave you with this not-particularly-veiled shot Billy Crystal took at Mitt Romney during Sunday night's Oscars telecast:
Hilarious! A few details are in order, though: The Romney's have abided by the law, paid what they owe, and donated an additional 16 percent (amounting to $7 million in just two years) of their considerable income to charity. The grand total of the Romney's income that went to government or private charity was just over 40 percent. On the other side of the aisle, we have a tax cheat running Barack Obama's Treasury Department, and -- until John Boehner became Speaker -- we had a repeat offender tax cheat in charge of writing the tax laws he was ignoning. Oh, and Democrats weren't too bothered by John Kerry's (lower-than-Romney's) effective tax rate when they nominated him for president, were they? Want to talk taxes and class warfare as the country labors under President Obama's failed economic policies, Democrats? Bring it.
Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).
Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography