2022, Vol. 75(1) 35 –46
Political Research Quarterly
© 2020 University of Utah
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This study employs state-level samples of public opinion
to examine how rates of state taxes, state tax burden, and
state tax increases correspond with attitudes about
increasing state taxes and about which tax should be
increased. Specifically, when presented a scenario where
a state budget must be balanced with spending cuts or tax
increases, who wants to raise taxes? Furthermore, when
faced with a scenario where taxes must rise, which tax do
people choose? We develop and test hypotheses about
how people consider state sales taxes versus state income
taxes under these scenarios.
In addition to individual-level factors that might struc-
ture attitudes about state taxes, we are also interested in
how state-level taxation might affect attitudes about state
taxes. We examine whether attitudes were related to how
high specific taxes were, to how much taxes were recently
raised, and to the overall burden of state taxes. Framing
our questions slightly differently, is public opinion sensi-
tive to actual tax policy, above and beyond attitudes
structured by partisanship, ideology, and individual
There is a sizable literature about public attitudes
toward taxes in the United States (for summaries, see
Campbell 2009; Williamson 2015, 2017), and literature
documenting which taxes people like the least (Cole and
Kincaid 2006; Kincaid and Cole 2001). Yet, there has
been limited examination of how attitudes about state
taxes may be affected by how people experience taxes.
Campbell (2009, 157) examined aggregated trends in
attitudes over time and suggests they reflect that taxes are
more unpopular when they are higher. That is, the prop-
erty tax was less unpopular after the “property tax revolt”
cuts of the late 1970s and 1980s, and the federal income
tax was rated less unpopular after the George W. Bush–
era tax cuts. Bowler and Donovan (1995) also found that
attitudes about which state or local tax was “the worst
tax” varied systematically with actual tax levels in a state.
Yet, these works could not examine whether tax rates
individuals experienced, or changes in those tax rates,
corresponded with their attitudes about raising taxes.
Self-Interest and Taxes
One view of economic self-interest is that people who
pay more taxes will be less receptive to raising taxes.
Yet, a range of public opinion research searching for
977911PRQXXX10.1177/1065912920977911Political Research QuarterlyDonovan and Bowler
1Western Washington University, Bellingham, USA
2University of California, Riverside, USA
Todd Donovan, Department of Political Science, Western
Washington University, MS 9082, Bellingham, WA 98225, USA.
Who Wants to Raise Taxes?
Todd Donovan1 and Shaun Bowler2
We test hypotheses about individual-level (partisanship and self-interest) and state-level (tax policy) factors that may
shape public attitudes about raising taxes. Respondents were given a scenario where a state budget needed to be
balanced with spending cuts or tax increases, and a scenario where either state sales or state income taxes would be
increased. We find partisanship, ideology, and self-interest had substantial relationships with how people responded.
Democrats, liberals, and those with fewer resources preferred tax increases over spending cuts, and preferred income
tax increases over sales tax increases. Republicans (particularly wealthy Republicans), conservatives, and those with
more resources preferred spending cuts to tax increases, and preferred sales tax increases over income tax increases.
We also find income tax increases and higher tax burdens may correspond with preferences for cutting spending
rather than raising taxes, but variation in the rates of a particular tax was not associated with attitudes about raising
that tax. Our results suggest an electorate that may be somewhat more sophisticated about fiscal policy than what
has been portrayed in several influential studies.
public opinion, taxes, tax policy, state politics