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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Confidence, Perception, and Politics in California: The Determinants of Attitudes toward Taxes by Level of Government

  • Author(s): Wallsten, Kevin J
  • Park, Gene
  • et al.

California faced a tremendous fiscal challenge in the wake of the 2008recession. With high political hurdles to raising taxes, the state and local governmentswereforced to appeal directly to voters through ballot initiatives. Debatesover these ballot initiatives, however, took place against the backdrop of increassinglyacrimonious disagreements about taxation at the federal level. Unfortunately,researchers have little idea about how the dynamics of public opinion ontax issues operate across these various levels of government. This article asks: dothe factors that shape attitudes towards taxation in California vary depending onthe level of government levying those taxes? Analyzing results from a 2012 poll,this article finds some differences and some commonalities in the determinantsof tax attitudes at the federal, state and local level. More specifically, we find that:(1) attitudes toward taxes are more politicized at the federal level than at the stateor local level; (2) confidence in government has a strong effect on tax attitudesbut citizens draw clear distinctions between levels of government; (3) perceivedself-interest does not influence tax attitudes at any level; and (4) there is a gendergap in attitudes toward taxation at the federal, state and local levels.

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