It's Tax Day, And We're Not Happy About It

Depending on where you live, today is tax day across the United States -- the day income tax returns must be sent. And if recent polling is any indication, you're not happy about.

If paying taxes doesn't have most Americans whistling with glee, there's a good reason: On average, they think half the money is frittered away, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll taken in the first week of April.

Out of every dollar the federal government collects in taxes, Americans estimate on average that 51 cents are wasted. That's near the average, 48 cents, in polls since 1985, across Republican and Democratic administrations, in good economic times and bad.

It's been a bit worse -- in 1998 the average amount of perceived waste was 56 cents on the dollar. It's been better, too, with lows of 43 cents in 1985 and 44 cents in 1990. But by and large, year in and year out, that's a lot of skepticism about a lot of money. The Internal Revenue Service collected just short of $2 trillion (after refunds) in all taxes last year.

Republicans currently perceive a bit less waste in government than do other Americans, suggesting that Republicans' usual criticism of government spending is outweighed at the moment by their loyalty to the Bush administration. Republicans think 46 cents on the dollar in taxes are wasted. Democrats think it's more like 54 cents.

Ideologically there's less of a difference: liberals, moderates and conservatives alike think the federal government wastes about half the money it collects in taxes.

There are other differences. Perceptions of waste are much higher among less-educated Americans -- 56 cents per tax dollar among those who haven't been to high school, compared with 41 cents among those who've done post-graduate work. And estimates of wasted money are 6 cents higher on the dollar among women than among men.

American Opinions on Tax Waste
  Cents Per Dollar Wasted
All   51 cents
Democrat   54 cents
Independent   51 cents
Republican   46 cents
Liberal   50 cents
Moderate   51 cents
Conservative   50 cents
No high school   56 cents
Post-graduate   41 cents
Women   54 cents
Men   48 cents

Figures taken from ABC/Washington Post poll of April 6-9 -- 1,027 adults, three-point error margin.