Any given week, it seems that there are plenty of PR people out there circulating trend surveys that -- to put it kindly -- are built on somewhat a dubious foundation.
Most often, the ones that don’t find a home on WebCPA usually feature either a ridiculously low number of respondents (less than 100 people), or are so blatantly biased towards promoting a company’s accounting software product that I can’t help but roll my eyes at the results.
Recently, I published the results of one such eye-rolling survey, from the Internal Revenue Service.
Similar to the results of a survey from a year ago, the IRS Oversight Board gleefully reported that 86 percent of respondents to its 2006 Taxpayer Attitude Survey agreed that it is “not at all” acceptable to cheat on income taxes. That percentage was down a few percentage points from 2005, but still within the margin of error, and the board concluded that those figures translated to strong continued taxpayer support for compliance in the country.
But, confidential responses or not, it’s hard for me to believe that there are that many taxpayers who would respond to a survey question about paying taxes and vocally say that they believe it is acceptable to cheat on income taxes. If anything, I’m surprised that as high as 14 percent of respondents responded that it’s even somewhat acceptable to cheat on income taxes, putting aside their fears of roiling the audit gods.
But there’s obviously some sort of disconnect. Congress has been all cutting down the country’s estimated $290 billion tax gap in recent months, and in recent weeks, the IRS has had its hands full coping with tax preparers and taxpayers attempting to receive obscenely inflated returns by abusing the one-time phone excise tax that is being returned.
And, in fact, that such a disconnect can be seen among one of the survey’s other findings, which the board also touted -- nearly 75 percent of respondents agreed that it is everyone’s civic duty to pay their fair share of taxes. For whatever reason, 11 percent don’t think it’s everyone’s “duty” to pay their fair share, even though, ostensibly, it’s “not at all” acceptable to cheat on taxes.
That’s something I hope the Oversight Board considers in designing its survey for next year, because the quality of the data its getting back will only be as good as the design of its survey -- and trying to put a qualitative number on even the best of tax return intentions might not be the best use of its resources.
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