04/12/06 FOX News Poll: Americans Split on Whether Tax Dollars Well Spent

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Most Americans say they have finished filling out their tax forms, and a majority says they will be paying about the same amount or less than last year. Nearly half say they think their tax dollars are spent on programs they personally dislike, according to the latest FOX News Poll.

The new poll finds that a majority of Americans (65 percent) have already filed their taxes, another one in five say they have started the process, but are not finished, and one in 10 have yet to start the dreaded task. Those who are unmarried are twice as likely as those who are married to say they have not started doing their taxes yet.

Over half of Americans (52 percent) have a professional tax preparer or accountant help them with their taxes, while about a third (31 percent) say they do their own — and one in 10 has a friend or family member prepare them.

There are clear differences among demographic groups. For example, people under the age of 30 years old are 14 percentage points more likely than those over 65 years to prepare their own taxes, and those with a college degree are 11 points more likely than those with less than a college degree to do it themselves.

Overall, a 56 percent majority thinks taxes get done more accurately when prepared by professionals than when they are done by taxpayers themselves (16 percent). Despite this public confidence, a recent Government Accountability Office report finds various problems with tax preparers making mistakes and giving bad advice, and some senators are calling for legislation to further regulate the tax preparation industry.

Opinion Dynamics Corporation conducted the national telephone poll of 900 registered voters for FOX News on April 4-5.

“Pay off bills” is the most common response for what taxpayers will do with their refund check — a 32 percent plurality anticipates this use of their refund, while another 19 percent say they will put that money in savings, 9 percent will invest it and 7 percent will buy something new. Almost one in five (17 percent) say they never receive a refund.

Many Americans expect to pay about the same amount (52 percent) or less (9 percent) in taxes this year than last, while almost a third (32 percent) say they will pay more in taxes this year.

Among income groups, those in the highest-income group ($75,000 annual income or more) are the most likely to say they will pay more in taxes this year (42 percent), while a clear majority of those in the lowest-income group (less than $30,000 a year) say they will be paying about the same this year as last (59 percent).

Regardless of the amount paid, the poll finds that Americans are split on how their tax dollars are spent: 43 percent think at least some of their tax money is spent on government programs that they personally support, while 45 percent say not much, if any, of their taxes go toward budget items they endorse.

To break down the numbers even further, only 7 percent of Americans think “almost all” of their tax money is spent on government programs that they personally support, 36 percent say “some of it” is, 34 percent “not much of it,” and 11 percent “none at all.”

“It’s interesting to note that Americans seem to have more faith in the capabilities of accountants to handle their financial responsibilities than in politicians to spend tax money wisely,” notes Ernest Paicopolos, a principal of Opinion Dynamics Corporation.

By eight-to-one Americans say Congress thinks of federal taxpayer money as “their money to spend as they wish” rather than as “taxpayer money to spend carefully,” including large majorities of Republicans (78 percent), Democrats (80 percent) and independents (84 percent).

• PDF: Click here for full poll results.