Nebraskans like the “Buffett Rule.”
By 2-to-1, they favor a minimum 30 percent federal income tax for people who make $1 million or more, a concept backed by President Barack Obama and championed by Omaha investor Warren Buffett because his tax rate is much lower than his secretary's.
The World-Herald Poll found that Nebraskans, including a plurality of Republicans and a strong majority of higher-income people, favored the tax proposal even though, in the same poll, a majority said they will vote against Obama.
The only group with even a plurality against the proposal were those who said they plan to vote for Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee for president, with 48 percent opposed to the tax idea and 44 percent in favor. Among those who plan to vote for Obama, a Democrat, 89 percent were in favor, as were 73 percent of undecided voters.
Support by that many Republicans surprised Richard Witmer, associate professor of political science at Creighton University, given the emphasis on not raising taxes by the GOP and conservative groups. Earlier this year, Obama asked Congress to enact such a minimum tax rule for high-income people. GOP opposition in Congress killed the proposal.
Witmer said a poll question that cites a specific $1 million income figure may be more likely to gain support than a general question about raising taxes.
And a tax on people with $1 million or more in annual income would affect few Nebraskans, Witmer noted. As the late U.S. Sen. Russell Long, D-La., once said, “Don't tax you, don't tax me, tax that fellow behind the tree.”
Even Republican voters may think high-income earners can afford to pay a little more tax, Witmer said.
“A lot of people are OK about taxing other people. We all want benefits, but we don't all necessarily want to pay higher taxes to get them.”
He said Nebraskans generally view themselves as hardworking, middle-class Americans, and they identify with Buffett's argument that he, a Nebraska-born billionaire, is paying a tax rate that's too low.
“There's something almost un-Nebraskan” about a high-income person paying a low tax rate, Witmer said.
Buffett illustrated his “shared sacrifice” tax policy proposal by saying he pays the lowest tax rate at the Omaha headquarters of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., the investment company he heads, including the tax rate paid by his secretary — an argument not lost on a national group that advocates fairness for administrative professionals.
Ray Weikal, spokesman for the 22,000-member International Association of Administrative Professionals, based in Kansas City, Mo., said the association doesn't take stands on political candidates or tax policy issues.
But Weikal said the Buffett Rule raises an appealing question of “essential unfairness” related to the high value that administrative professionals bring to their employers.
“At least 64 percent of (Nebraskans) think ... that the office professional, the administrative professional, shouldn't be paying more taxes than her or his boss or executive,” Weikal said.
The World-Herald Poll showed slightly stronger support for the minimum tax than a national Gallup Poll in April.
Gallup, asking 1,016 adults the same question, found 60 percent of Americans in favor and 37 percent opposed. Gallup said Republicans opposed the idea, 54 to 43 percent, while Democrats favored it by 74 to 24 percent and independents by 63 to 33 percent.
The World-Herald Poll of 800 registered voters found more than 60 percent support regardless of age, education or household income, including 64 percent of those with household incomes over $100,000 a year. Of those most likely to vote in the November election, 62 percent favored the minimum tax.
Among all Republicans, 47 percent favored the minimum tax and 44 percent opposed it. Of Democrats, 87 percent were in favor, as were 68 percent of independents. Men favored the concept 59 to 35 percent and women 68 to 24 percent.
The survey poll was taken Sept. 17 through 20 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
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