World and Nation

Americans split on tax policy, NYT/CBS poll finds

It may come as no surprise, but Americans are deeply split along party lines when it comes to federal tax policy.

A New York Times/CBS News poll released Tuesday found that a majority of Republicans approve of the current tax policy, while most Democrats and independents disapprove of taxing income from capital gains at a lower rate than earned income.

The survey was taken in the past several days as Mitt Romney faced intensifying criticism from his rivals to release his tax returns, resulting in his disclosure of his 2010 information and his anticipated 2011 payments.

Just before the South Carolina primary last week, Romney announced that his marginal tax rate was close to 15 percent — the rate levied on dividends and capital gains. A review by The New York Times of the returns released Tuesday showed that his tax rate for 2010 was closer to 14 percent, but is expected to be more than 15 percent for 2011.

While Romney’s tax rate appears considerably higher than the average rate paid by middle-income households, it is at a lower rate than that of many other affluent people because most of his income is from investments.

In the survey, about half of all Americans agreed with the statement that capital gains and dividends should be taxed the same as income earned from work, because the current policy increases the federal deficit and is unfair to people who do not have money to invest.

Thirty-six percent of Americans said they approved of the current policy because it encourages investment, which helps the economy and ultimately increases tax revenue.

But there is a partisan divide, with just more than half of Republicans approving of the lower tax rate on capital gains, but about two-thirds of Democrats saying capital gains and dividends should be taxed at the same rate as income from work. More than half of independents — an important swing group in the presidential election — also say the tax rates should be similar. And most Americans say that what they themselves pay in taxes is about right, but that people with high incomes pay too little in taxes.

A little more than half say the tax rate they pay is about right, while about 4 in 10 say they pay more than their fair share. Seven in 10 Democrats say wealthy Americans pay less than their fair share in taxes, while Republicans are divided.

Nearly 4 in 10 Republicans say that the rich pay less than their fair share, and about the same number say the amount wealthy people pay is about right. Nearly 2 in 10 Republicans say the rich pay more than their fair share.