TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Daschle and Public Opinion About Tax Compliance

Daschle The IRS Oversight Board has released the results of its 2008 Taxpayer Attitude Survey of 1,005 respondents.  This is the eighth year the board has conducted the survey.  Among the results showing a disconnect between the Washington, D.C. cognoscenti's acceptance of Tom Daschle's tax transgressions and the public's repudiation of such disregard of the tax law:

  • How much, if any, do you think is an acceptable amount to cheat on your income taxes?
    • Not at all:  89% (highest in the 8-year survey history)
    • A little here and there:  6%
    • As much as possible:  3%
  • It is every American's civic duty to pay their fair share of taxes
    • Completely agree:  72%
    • Mostly agree:  22%
    • Mostly disagree:  2%
    • Completely disagree:  2%
  • How important is it to you, as a taxpayer, that the IRS ... [e]nsures high-income taxpayers are reporting and paying their taxes honestly?
    • Very important:  82% (highest in the 8-year survey history)
    • Somewhat important:  14%
    • Not very important:  2%
    • Not at all important:  1%

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Good post, Prof. Caron. I think it would also be useful if you would do a "public service announcement" about the incorrect statements advanced in defense of Mr. Daschle. In particular, several attorneys have suggested that because he did not receive a Form 1099-MISC, he could not have known that he was receiving income in the form of the car and driver. This is wrong. The words "gross income means all income from whatever source derived" (IRC sec. 61), while followed by a succession of rules, are not conditioned on someone else telling you that you may owe tax. Our tax system is based on voluntary compliance. We need leaders who appreciate that fundamental concept.

Posted by: 1099-Mistaken | Feb 3, 2009 5:37:07 AM

This survey uses loaded questions in order to provoke the results it reports. It is not so much meant to measure taxpayer attitudes as to shape them by manufacturing and publicizing a consensus. For example, the question that generated the survey’s most-touted result was:

“How much, if any, do you think is an acceptable amount to cheat on your income taxes?”

By using the loaded word “cheat” which by definition implies unacceptable behavior, the survey almost guarantees that respondents will label the behavior as “not at all” acceptable.

Other questions follow the same pattern:

“It is every American’s civic duty to pay their fair share of taxes. (Do you completely agree, mostly agree, mostly disagree, or completely disagree?)”

If the question begins by assuming that the share is fair, what is left to disagree with?

It’s a shame that a government agency can create a manipulative survey like this one and can then count on a lazy news media to trumpet its results uncritically.

Posted by: David Gross | Feb 3, 2009 9:22:47 AM

While 89% of people said they would not tolerate any tax cheating (and I'm sure they meant it), I suspect that if the IRS named some of the more controversial taxes and asked if people should be punished for not paying them, they would get a different result.

Posted by: tim maguire | Feb 3, 2009 10:11:59 AM

All of the alleged "tax evasion" took place during the Bush Administration. It is Bush's fault.


Posted by: Yes We Did | Feb 3, 2009 10:13:17 AM

We have doofus Joe Biden lecturing us on how paying taxes is patriotic. Close to 100% of the non-Washington, D.C. cognoscenti folks in this country believe it is wrong to lie or cheat on taxes. What does this say for all these Democrats who do lie and cheat on taxes?

I'd lock every one of them up like Al Capone. Either that, or get rid of all taxes (my personal choice).

Posted by: Peg C. | Feb 3, 2009 10:14:28 AM

I wonder how different this survey would look if it were broken down by those people who owe some income tax and those who owe none at all.

Posted by: Swampleg | Feb 3, 2009 10:22:22 AM

It would be nice to see this survey broken down by party affiliation

Posted by: Jeff Carpenter | Feb 3, 2009 10:22:32 AM

"Hello, Ma'am, I'm from the Internal Revenue Service. We're conducting a survey to learn how people feel about cheating on their taxes."

"Well, I... I'm really sort of busy."

"It will only take a few minutes."

"Umm... "

"It's for the government. Your opinion is important."

"What's that on your clipboard?"

"Just some forms."

"Is there some sort of prize?"

"No, I'm sorry. But you can let the IRS know how you feel."

"About cheating on taxes?"


"No habla engles."


Posted by: iowahawk | Feb 3, 2009 10:31:35 AM

It would be informative to ask how many people believe that our tax system is fair.

Posted by: Some Guy | Feb 3, 2009 10:57:03 AM

Almost makes me willing to make a few 'arithmetic' errors on my tax return, just because I'm annoyed. I also do the returns for two of my kids, and one grandchild - but that might be too obvious, and they don't have the extra time it might take to argue the point. But it sure is tempting! I mean, there might be more tax cheats than honest people in our new cabinet, you think?

Posted by: Curly | Feb 3, 2009 11:00:41 AM

Just a thought...what if the IRS suspended all audits on folks who make less than $500,000 per year for a year and use those audit resources to audit all of congress and anyone who heads up a Department in Gov't. It's obvious that the Dodd/Rangel/Richardson/Dashle/Geithner...problems are not unique or rare.

Posted by: Jerry Baker | Feb 3, 2009 11:03:18 AM

An interesting survey and reassuring that the public takes the responsibility so seriously. The frequency with which failure to pay taxes occurs among Washington DC insiders is also revealing of their belief they that they are above the laws and other citizenz of the country. I say vote against all incumbents at every election. Elected officials and registered lobbyists should face fines triple that of the general public.

Posted by: Bruce Lawrence | Feb 3, 2009 11:03:21 AM

Oh yeah, LOTS of people are going to tell the IRS or Treasury Department that they think that it's OK to cheat on taxes. Sure they are. And I'm sure that everyone agrees on what their "fair share" is. That's ambiguous to the point of meaningless.

What planet are these pollsters from?

Has to be Uranus.

Really now, how about an independent poll on the fairness of the system, and several other taxes like the Federal Gasoline Tax, etc, and see what they think of those.

Posted by: David R. Block | Feb 3, 2009 12:00:48 PM

Daschle couldn't afford the pay cut.
This is his excuse.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey | Feb 3, 2009 12:28:50 PM

This confirms my suspicions that approximately 80% of people are actually a woolless species of sheep.

Posted by: roga | Feb 3, 2009 10:04:54 PM

Does anybody know why the car service was considered income, not a gift?

If I was doing my taxes, I wouldn't think to add it as income, since I wasn't doing any work for it. What exactly is the IRS rules on stuff like that? If a friend of Tom Dashle let him live in a room in his house for free, is that income? If that is the case, how many people here would think to tell their accountant that it was income?

I haven't done my taxes this year yet, but I'm kind of curious what question TaxCut asks that would flag this. Is it just "Do you have any other income?" My reaction would be "No", and move on.

Posted by: DR | Feb 4, 2009 7:23:53 AM

Yes, the survey questions were slanted to favor the preferred result. Here would be the opposite slant:

1. Do you feel that the income tax operates unfairly, for example by the application of phaseouts and surcharges?

2. Do you believe that your income tax liability is more than, less than, or equal to your fair share of taxes?

3. Do you feel justified in shading your tax return in your favor, even if an auditor might regard it as cheating?

4. Do you plan to pay state sales tax on all your Internet and private party purchases from last year?

Such a survey would produce a diametrically opposite result: that a large majority of the public agrees that some degree of tax cheating is OK. It would be equally meaningless.

Using a slanted opinion poll to manufacture "news" is propaganda, pure and simple.

Posted by: AMTbuff | Feb 4, 2009 3:43:21 PM

> Does anybody know why the car service was considered income, not a gift?

As I understand it, this is a question of facts and circumstances. Did the company give the car service out of the goodness of its heart? No, because companies don't do that, and Daschle is not a registered charity.

Presumably the business deducted the expense as promoting its business interests, cultivating a friendly relationship with someone who was expected to have a powerful role in the future. If the recipient were not in a position to do the company a favor in the past, present, or future, the gift would not have occurred. Ergo, it's not really a gift. That's why nobody seriously claimed that it was, once the matter came to light.

Posted by: AMTbuff | Feb 4, 2009 4:55:02 PM