The Structure of American Income Tax Policy Preferences

Journal Articles
Journal of Politics

In recent decades inequality in the United States has increased dramatically, but policy responses in terms of redistribution have been limited. This is not easily explained by standard political economy theory, which predicts a positive relationship between inequality and redistribution. One set of explanations for this puzzle focuses on whether and why redistributive preferences are muted in the presence of high inequality. While much recent research has focused on citizens’ preferences over government spending, we argue that preferences over taxation are a central piece of this puzzle. This article implements an experimental conjoint survey design to measure American income tax preferences across six income brackets. We find that policy opinions are generally progressive but that preferences do not vary substantially from current tax policies, and support for taxing the rich is highly inelastic. We show that both economic and fairness concerns affect individual tax preferences and find that conflict is primarily over taxing high incomes.


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