Parsing the “Q-Poll” on Taxes

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“Voters Back Millionaire’s Tax 4-1.” That’s one of the headlines on the latest survey of New York State residents by Quinnipiac University’s Polling Institute.

It’s hardly a surprise that most New Yorkers are inclined to favor a tax hike that fewer than 1 percent of them would pay. But perhaps the plurality in support of the tax increase would have been less overwhelming if Quinnipiac had not misrepresented the true size of the state income tax increase that has been proposed by Assembly Democrats.

The complete “Q” question was put this way: “There is a proposal to raise, by nearly 1 percentage point, the state income tax paid by people who earn more than a million dollars a year. Do you support or oppose this proposal?”

The result: 77 percent in favor, only 19 percent opposed.

In fact, as the lead-in to the poll question failed to make clear, it’s the top income tax rate that Assembly Democrats propose raising by nearly 1 percentage point β€” 0.85 percentage points, to be precise. Filers with incomes over $1 million would become subject to a flat tax rate of 7.7 percent, compared to the current level of 6.85 percent. Their taxes would rise to $77,000 from the current level of $68,500β€”an increase of 12.4 percent. In other words, the Assembly proposal would raise taxes on targeted wealthy households by more than 12 times as much as implied by the lead-in statement supplied to Quinnipiac poll respondents.

Translated into dollars and cents terms, the difference between the tax rate hike and the resulting increase in tax liability is significant. For a filer with income of exactly $1 million, a tax increase of 1 percent would translate into an added payment of $685. But a tax increase of 12.4 percent would represent a $8,500 surcharge.

A more accurate poll question would have been preceded by this statement: “There is a proposal to raise, by more than 12 percent, the state income taxes paid by people who earn more than a million dollars a year.” The premise could be made more informative β€” thus producing a more reliable gauge of voter sentiments β€” if expanded to include an example of what the tax hike would actually mean to a targeted taxpayer, such as the $8,500 surcharge on the $68,500 tax bill cited above.

Given the tiny number of households targeted by the proposed tax hike, and given the natural tendency of many voters to favor soak-the-rich tax policies regardless of economic consequences, a more carefully worded poll question would probably still show a majority in favor of raising taxes on wealthy households. But the 4-1 margin touted in today’s Quinnipiac release reflects loaded questioning as much as true voter attitudes.