Californians passed Proposition 13, capping personal property taxes in the state, 31 years ago. The modern tax revolt was born, and it reverberated throughout the United States. In a press conference in July 1978, President Jimmy Carter noted that its passage "sent a shock wave through the consciousness of every public servant." When Ronald Reagan took office, 68 percent said their federal taxes were too high, one of the highest responses in the 60-year history of that Gallup question. What are public views about taxes today and how have they changed since the tax quake three decades ago?
Today Americans seem relatively comfortable with, or perhaps resigned to, the level of federal income taxes they pay. They see their federal tax burden as high but fair. Americans aren't very knowledgeable about progressivity, but they have consistent notions of the maximum amount people should pay in taxes. Trend questions provide little evidence that Americans are more concerned about inequality than they were in the late 1970s, although a few recent questions suggest that concern may be on the rise. At this early stage in his presidency, Americans, although deeply skeptical of politicians' tax promises, have high hopes that President Obama will deliver a middle-income tax cut. The political coloration of the issue has changed also, and the antitax banner Republicans unfurled in the late 1970s and early 1980s is now tattered. Democrats have made gains on the tax issue as the Republican Party has become less popular. Finally, the political urgency of the tax issue has diminished.