The Washington Post reported a few days ago that Washington State has the most inequitable tax system of all states. See The state that taxes the poor the most is… a blue one and the graphic on the right, from ITEP.
In Why ‘progressive’ voters will balk at the income tax proposal, the claim is made that in Washington State middle- and low-income votes are strongly opposed to income taxes:
Regressive sales taxes are a principal revenue source. While the state’s political traditions have been associated with President Franklin Roosevelt and Sens. Warren Magnuson and Henry (Scoop) Jackson, its tax code is more akin to that of a corporatist Benito Mussolini’s.
Yet the very middle- and low-income citizens who might be expected to favor progressivity have been strongly opposed to income taxes. Why is that?
The answer is the same one we see reflected in current Tea Party movements across the country. Ordinary, working taxpayers believe that government cannot be trusted and that any new tax — progressive or not — would simply be piled atop existing taxes so as to facilitate ever-rising government spending.
What’s the Matter With Poor Voters? A Reconsideration makes a similar claim:
I was recalling over the weekend for an audience of mostly liberals the moment that George McGovern realized he was going to lose his Senate seat in the 1980 election: he was in a supermarket checkout line in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where two women in line ahead of him told him that although they were lifelong Democrats, they weren’t going to vote for him this time because he was “too liberal.” They then proceeded to purchase their groceries with food stamps.
Survey research shows that resistance to expansions of the welfare state often comes from low-income voters. Despite the long effort of the left to legitimize (and then expand) redistribution, there remains a residue of the sentiments of dignity and honor even among many people who are dependent on government. [In fact, there is redistribution upwards, to the rich, via subsidies, bailouts, tax breaks, government contracts, etc.] To be sure, the agenda of egalitarian redistribution has made significant inroads since the 1980s and 1990s, thus preparing the way for Obama’s Great Leap Forward, but conservatives should not be so hasty in writing off the entire population of people who do not pay federal income tax or who are beneficiaries of government programs. It’s not just bad politics; it also sells short some bedrock traits of the American character.
Martha Koester, who pointed me to the quotes above, offers a different explanation:
A sales tax is not only regressive, it is invisible. You go to Bartell’s and buy a bottle of conditioner for $1.49 and pay $1.64 to the cashier. Big whoop. Even as a retiree I don’t have the time to save my receipts and add up all the sales taxes for a year, so people working more than one minimum wage job certainly don’t. Income taxes are far more visible, even it the yearly total is less.
Koester also said, “The reason we have such a regressive tax system is that its victims like it that way. Lower income people were the most likely to vote against the Gates Sr. high earners tax initiative (I-1098), on the grounds that eventually the lower limit would drop to include them. ”
But is this true? Did poorer people vote against the income tax initiative in 2010 to a greater degree than rich people voted against it?
To begin to address this question, I collected election results from various counties (results are available online by precinct for most counties), as well as income data from Washington Median Household Income City Rank. Here’s the part of the income data
|Rank||Median Household Income ?||City / Population|
|1.||$204,375||Clyde Hill, WA / 2,943|
|2.||$179,792||Hunts Point, WA / 433|
|3.||$175,250||Medina, WA / 2,947|
|4.||$166,250||Yarrow Point, WA / 854|
|5.||$160,313||Santiago, WA / 17|
|6.||$144,028||Woodway, WA / 1,421|
|7.||$134,616||Sammamish, WA / 43,341|
Combining the income data with the voting results for I-1098, we see (below) that the richest precincts definitely tended to strongly oppose I-1098. The poorer precincts were mixed; rural areas were likely to oppose I-1098, but some poor cities tended to support it.
Statewide, 35.9% of voted Yes on I-1098. In wealthy Clyde Hill, Medina, and Yarrow Point only about 20% of voters (the saintly rich folks?) voted yes on I-1098.
Some poorer communities — generally rural areas — opposed I-1098 but others supported it. For example, 51.4% of residents in Pullman in Whitman County near the Idaho border voted Yes. But rural Pullman voted No by a ratio of over two to one.
Still, these results are dismal, and the governor and legislative leaders should educate the public about the regressiveness of our tax system.
The results also point to the success of right wing messaging and of conservatives’ strategy of corrupting and mismanaging government to destroy the public’s faith in it and to enrich their buddies. The administration of George W. Bush was the prime example of that strategy.
It would be worthwhile to do a more thorough analysis. It would involve substantial collection and matching of data, which are in different formats in different counties. If income data were broken down by precinct, more informative results (e.g., regression analysis) would be possible.
The list below shows selected communities, their rank in income, and the percent of voters who voted Yes on I-1098. For King County the results are from http://www.kingcounty.gov/elections/archive.aspx .
Clyde Hill: (rank 1 in income) — see Points East.
351 yeses, 1309 nos, percent yeses = 21.1%
Medina (Rank 3 in income)
339 yeses, 1385 nos, percent yeses = 19.7%
Yarrow Point (4 in income)
132 yeses, 480 nos, percent yeses = 21.6%
Mercer Island: (rank 12 in income)
4492 yeses, 8228 nos, percent yeses = 35.3%
Sammamish: (Rank 7)
6020 yeses, 13697 nos, percent yeses = 30.5%
Bellevue: (rank 83)
17128 yeses, 29841 nos, percent yeses = 36.5%
Renton: (191, but East Renton has high income)
10395 yeses, 16198 nos, percent yeses = 39.1%
Des Moines: (rank 213)
3782 yeses, 6299 nos, percent yeses = 37.5%
Federal Way: (rank 246)
8854 yeses, 16731 nos, percent yeses = 34.6%
Enumclaw (rank 248):
1176 yeses, 2859 nos, percent yeses = 29.1%
Auburn (rank 262):
5687 yeses, 12298 nos, percent yeses = 31.6%
Burien (rank 289)
6083 yeses, 8856 nos, percent yeses = 40.7%
SeaTac: (rank 332)
2452 yeses, 3706 nos, percent yeses = 39.8%
Ellensburg (rank 580): 37.4% yes
Pullman: (rank 586)
3389 yeses, 3203 nos, percent yeses = 51.4%
But Pullman Rural was 2 to 1 against I1098:
PULLMAN RURAL-110, 174 Yes, 381 No
PULLMAN RURAL-111, 48 Yes, 110 No
In Kittitas County (http://vote.wa.gov/results/20101102/kittitas/): 28.6% yes
The data for Yakima County is in a different format: http://www.yakimacounty.us/vote/english/Returns/2010GenResultsforinternet.pdf
22% yes, home to Yakima (rank 434) and Toppenish (rank 569)