Sorry, Tea Party Movement, Polls Say Americans Don't Mind Taxes

Today's protests will say more about the conservative grass roots than mainstream America.

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By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Conservatives gathering across the country for "Tea Parties" to protest the Obama taxing and spending policies should be disappointed with a couple of recent Gallup polls regarding American attitudes toward taxes. Apparently, as a nation we have a more positive view of taxes than we have had for a very long time.

According to Gallup, for only the second time in more than half a century, a plurality of Americans (48-46 percent) think that they're paying the proper amount of taxes. The only other time that that has been true since 1956 was in 2003 when 50 percent of Americans felt they were paying the right amount in taxes. Drilling down a bit deeper, the slim plurality comes entirely from Democrats, who 55-40 think we're paying the right amount of taxes (up sharply from 2008 when they thought so 47-45). Independents narrowly disagree, with 48 percent saying taxes are too high and 46 percent saying they're just right--though that figure too has narrowed sharply, as it was 54-40 in 2008. And Republicans are not surprisingly opposite Democrats, with 53 percent saying taxes are too high and 43 percent saying they're about right. (Really? Forty-three percent of Republicans think taxes are correct? I thought it was an article of GOP faith that taxes are by their nature too high.)

A separate Gallup poll released today showed that for the first time in 15 years a plurality of Americans think lower-income people are being taxed fairly (usually, they are seen as overtaxed), while by a margin of 50-43, they believe that middle-income taxpayers are taxed at the proper rate (this has fluctuated fairly rhythmically over the decade). Nobody likes the wealthy, of course: 60 percent of Americans think them under-taxed, 23 percent think they pay their fair share, and 13 percent feel that they are overburdened. (The "fair share" and "too much" numbers both declined this year, while the "overburdened" number went up.)

The "Tea Party" movement stems from CNBC commentator Rick Santelli's call for a Chicago Tea Party mirroring the famous Revolutionary Era anti-tax protest. According to ABC News, more than 750 such events are planned today across the country. Their grievance is that government has grown too big--it taxes too much and spends too much.

Even if they get the numbers they want, we can safely assume--especially with the above-referenced poll numbers--that most of the protesters will be from the activist right. (It's the same with the periodic anti-war protests: people in the middle have better things to do than fill the streets in protest.) But this, from ABC, is what makes the protests interesting to watch:

If crowds approach their predicted levels, it will be an impressive display of grassroots activism -- on a scale rarely, if ever, demonstrated by conservatives.

There's been little advertising, no real top-down direction from party leaders, and extensive use of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to bring activists together.

"This could be the beginning of conservative online grassroots politics," said David All, a Republican Internet strategist. "It has real potential. The interesting thing will be to see how it pivots, and whether it pivots. The real question is what happens after April 15."

The explosion of interest has left some conservative strategists wondering whether the Republican Party might have stumbled across the makings of its own version of the liberal MoveOn.org -- a powerful organization with the ability to shape national politics.

Another thing I wonder about: Lefty protests (and I'm principally thinking of anti-war rallies) tend to have signs and speakers who rhetorically wander the horizon, protesting war, racism, sexism, pollution ... the whole panoply of liberal grievances. Will the conservatives have better message discipline today? Somehow I doubt it.

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