CBS News Poll analysis by the CBS News Polling Unit: Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Fred Backus and Anthony Salvanto.
The government taxes income earned through investments at a lower tax rate income earned from working, but half of Americans think that should change, according to a new CBS News/New York Times poll.
Currently, most investment, or unearned, income from capital gains and dividends is typically taxed at a maximum rate of 15 percent rate. That's how Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney ended up paying aon the $42.6 million he made over the past two years. Wage earners, by comparison, are taxed on a sliding scale that now tops out at 35 percent.
However, 52 percent of Americans say that capital gains and dividends should be taxed at the same rate as income earned from work because the current policy increases the federal deficit and is unfair to people who don't have money to invest, according to the poll. Thirty-six percent approve of the current policy of taxing capital gains at a lower rate because it encourages investment and helps the economy.
In his State of the Union address tonight, President Obama will appeal to those Americans who think investment income should be taxed more by
Named for billionaire investor Warren Buffett, the "Buffett rule" the president is calling for would compel those making $1 million or more a year to pay a rate no lower than what middle income Americans pay. Buffett last year decried the fact that he paid a lower tax rate than some middle-income earners in his office, such as his secretary. To drive home the president's point tonight, Buffett's secretary, Debbie Bosanek, will be in First Lady Michelle Obama's box.
While most Americans would seem to back the Buffett rule, the poll shows there are partisan differences on this question. Fifty-five percent of Republicans approve of the current policy, while 66 percent of Democrats say capital gains should be taxed at the same rate as employment income. Among independents, 54 percent say capital gains should be taxed at the same rate as work income.
Americans express some concern about whether all are paying their fair share of income taxes.
More than half - 55 percent - think upper income Americans pay less than their fair share of taxes. Only a quarter says higher income people pay the right amount in taxes.
There are partisan differences here, too. Seventy percent of Democrats think those with upper incomes pay less than their fair share of income taxes, but that percentage drops to 37 percent among Republicans.
When asked about their own federal income taxes, just over half of Americans say they pay about the right amount, but a sizeable number - 40 percent - feel they pay more than their fair share.
Opinions are impacted by household income. Thirty-two percent of Americans earning less than $50,000 a year feel they pay more than their fair share of taxes, but that number increases along with income, reaching 48 percent among those earning $100,000 a year or more.
This poll was conducted by telephone from January 20-23, 2012 among 1,185 adults nationwide. Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups may be higher. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.