2001 "As you may know, federal inheritance taxes currently apply only to estates valued at more than $1 million. Which of the following would you prefer to see Congress do this year--change the laws to eliminate all inheritance taxes on all estates, eliminate inheritance taxes on small businesses and family farms but otherwise leave the taxes unchanged, or leave inheritance tax laws unchanged?"
39%: eliminate all
30%: eliminate on small businesses and farms
25%: leave unchanged
2000: "I'd like your opinion on some programs and proposals being discussed in the world today. . . . eliminating the inheritance tax"
43%: strongly favor
8%: strongly oppose
2000: "Thinking about the federal inheritance tax, do you consider this tax too high, about right, too low, or don't you know enough to say?"
41%: too high
5%: about right
1%: too low
53%: don't know enough to say
1997: "The recently passed tax cut bill also phases out the inheritance tax, which is a tax as high as 55% that the government levies on money, farms, businesses, and other capital items passed along when someone dies. Do you favor or oppose phasing out the inheritance tax?"
50%: strongly favor
20%: somewhat favor
12%: somewhat oppose
15%: strongly oppose
1997: "Do you think the inheritance tax on estates worth $600,000 or more should be reduced, or not?"
43%: should be reduced
44%: should not
In 1984, a survey told people that the Reagan administration and Congress were considering raising some taxes in order to reduce budget deficits. They listed eight possibilities, including "gift or inheritance taxes" and asked people for their first and second choices on which to raise. The percent choosing each one as first or second:
54%: luxury items like jewels or furs
46%: corporate and business taxes
30%: excise taxes on items like tobacco, alcohol, gasoline, airline tickets, and phone calls
15%: user fees for those who use federal programs and services
13%: place a tax on imported oil
4%: increase federal income taxes
6%: increase gift or inheritance taxes
6%: establish a value-added tax
An increase in gift or inheritance taxes was one of the least popular items--well behind a tax on oil or excise taxes on items used by most people.
Despite the differences in the questions, the general picture is clear: there was never much public support for the inheritance tax, even before Republicans started calling it the "death tax."