"Socialism never took root in America," John Steinbeck said, "because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires." Although the creator of Tom Joad didn't coin the phrase with the average Tennessee voter in mind, he wasn't that far off the mark.
A recently released MTSU poll reveals that a plurality of Tennesseans do not favor raising taxes on households earning more than $250,000 a year, even though they wouldn't mind raising taxes on the poor and middle classes.
From the poll:
Tennesseans’ enthusiasm for combating the deficit with both spending cuts and tax increases does not translate into support for increasing taxes on households earning $250,000 or more, though. Forty-one percent say they would support such a tax increase, but a statistically greater 49 percent say they would not, and the rest aren’t sure.
The same CBS News / New York Times national poll found 56 percent Americans willing to raise taxes on households earning $250,000 or more, and only 37 percent opposed.
Again, as in the national results, political ideology plays a significant role in these attitudes in Tennessee. Sixty-six percent of Tennessee’s Democrats favor raising taxes on households earning $250,000 or more, compared to 41 percent of independents and others, and only 23 percent of Republicans.
The findings should give Rich Uncle Pennybags ample reason to take a few laps in his Olympic-sized pool of doubloons, if only because Tennesseans making less than $250,000 aren't exactly faring well in today's economy.
• Non-farm employment in the state has shrunk by 3 percent over the last decade according to the 2010 census, and statewide unemployment was 9.8 percent last month — nearly a full point higher than the national rate.
• Tennessee has a greater percentage of people living in poverty than the national average (17.2 percent versus 14.3).
• As of 2008, households reporting more than $250,000 in annual income comprised only 2 percent of
total households in these United States. Due to embarrassingly low capital gains rates and loopholes in the tax code that favor the country's richest individuals and companies, the wealthiest among us often pay less in taxes relative to their middle- and lower-class counterparts.
• Tennessee has one of the highest food taxes in the nation. When coupled with the nation's highest statewide sales tax, that results in a regressive system of taxation whose negative impact on middle- and lower-income families more closely resembles Herman Cain's "9-9-9" plan than anything resembling a fair and balanced revenue system.
• Median household income in Tennessee stood at $41,715 in 2009, roughly $9,000 less than the national average. The median income in Belle Meade, one of the richest communities in America? Try $144,000.
You'd think that with the writing so plainly on the wall, Tennesseans would refuse to defend the Astor Clements of the world.