Ah well, it looks like the timid status quoists are in full spin mode.
Covering the on-again/off-again prospects of a tax increase measure, Austin Jenkins reports for both KUOW and Crosscut that as weak as public support is for a sales tax increase, an income tax fares even worse:
The sales tax garnered better than 50 percent support if it included a tax rebate for working families and if the money raised was used to support hospitals, nursing homes, and other health care programs. […] The income tax proposal polled under 50 percent even if the money was dedicated to education and health care.
Huh? That’s not what I heard. And while I’m not sure I’ve seen the polling detail to which Jenkins refers, clearly, neither has he.
Or maybe I have. Here’s how Jenkins describes the poll in question:
I got my hands on a summary of the poll that was given to the Senate Democratic Caucus. It’s not the complete poll, and I don’t have a sample size or margin of error; however I believe 800 likely voters were polled. The poll was taken last week — right when people were filing their taxes and there were anti-tax demonstrations all over the country, including at the State Capitol in Olympia. The health care groups who paid for the poll say it was the “worst possible” week to be asking voters their mood on taxes.
Huh. I too have seen a poll of 800 likely voters, conducted last week, the worst week possible for asking voters their mood on an income tax… although unlike Jenkins, who reports on a summary passed on to the Senate Dem Caucus, I got to see some of the actual details:
Three tenths of one percent sales tax for working families tax rebate and Health Care Trust Fund For Basic Health Plan
(Total Approve) = 40%
Definitely Approve: 16%
Probably Approve 17%
Lean Approve 8%
Lean Reject 4%
Probably Reject 12%
Definitely Reject 22%
3% state income tax on individuals making over $250K
(Total Approve) = 47%
Definitely Approve: 27%
Probably Approve 15%
Lean Approve 5%
Lean Reject 2%
Probably Reject 8%
Definitely Reject 35%
Hmm. Perhaps there were two polls of the exact same survey size conducted at exactly the same time on the exact same subject? And no doubt the pollsters asked these questions in multiple ways, pushing different strengths and weaknesses, so perhaps Jenkins’ data is just as valid as mine? And yes, it is very difficult to make an apple to apple comparison when it comes to polling data.
But no, the impression that some Democratic lawmakers have been spinning to reporters, that an income tax fares worse in the polls than a sales tax hike, simply isn’t true. In fact, the data I’ve seen from last week’s poll shows exactly the opposite, with an income tax out-polling a sales tax 47% to 40%. Meanwhile, what support there was for a sales tax increase was incredibly soft, with only 16% responding “Definitely Approve,” compared to 27% for an income tax.
And that is consistent with all the other polling data of seen. A recent Elway Poll showed an income tax slightly out-polling a sales tax, 53% to 51%, while a March 2009 poll, again a survey of 800 respondents, surprised income tax proponents and detractors alike with the proposal’s initial level of support:
“This measure would establish a two percent state income tax only on income above $300,000 a year for individuals or above $600,000 a year for married couples filing jointly. If the election were held today, would you vote to APPROVE this referendum, or would you vote to REJECT it?”
(TOTAL APPROVE) = 56%
DEFINITELY APPROVE 37%
PROBABLY APPROVE 16
[LEAN APPROVE] 3
[LEAN REJECT] 3
PROBABLY REJECT 7
DEFINITELY REJECT 30
Considering the income tax is purported to be the third rail of Washington politics, those results aren’t bad, and arguably represent a more neutral survey of the public’s initial impression than one conducted while voters were in the midst of filing their federal returns.
I’m not a big fan of poll-driven lawmaking, but since one side in this debate is attempting to discredit the high-earners income tax by pushing cherry-picked data to lawmakers and reporters, I feel the need to set the record straight. There has not been a single poll this session that has shown top line support for a sales tax hike to be significantly higher than that for a high-earners income tax, while all the polls show what support there is for a sales tax increase to be unnervingly soft. That’s why the health care coalition has been backing away from the sales tax proposal… their well justified fear of the squishy middle.
Yes, neither proposal has polled above 60 percent, the magic number the initiative and referendum industry considers the bare minimum level of initial support for a ballot measure to warrant a substantial financial investment. But as the surprising level of support for a high-earners income tax has already shown, conventional wisdom can sometimes be wrong.
Back in June of 2005, polls showed support for Initiative 912’s repeal of the 9.5 cent gas tax increase to be running as high as 70 percent, yet once voters learned the costs and consequences of the measure, it failed in November by a comfortable ten point margin. Likewise, in 2006, opponents were initially concerned about support for Initiative 920’s proposed repeal of the estate tax, but after voters learned revenue was targeted to education, the measure was trounced by a resounding 24 point margin.
Washington voters have recently proven their willingness to tax themselves for the services and investments they want and need. And they’ve proven even more willing to tax the wealthy.
And while that final sentiment may be derided by some as a call to “class warfare,” it is hard to make that argument with a straight face in the state with the most cruelly regressive tax structure in the nation.