Academic journal article Public Administration Research

I Tax You Tax; Quality of Life and Self Taxation

Academic journal article Public Administration Research

I Tax You Tax; Quality of Life and Self Taxation

Article excerpt

Abstract

Citizens are occasionally asked to make specific policy decisions that elected officials are either unable or unwilling to make directly. Among the most common policies where specific voter approval is sought is the leveling of new taxes at the local level. I find that the quality of life of local communities is used by voters in deciding whether to support local tax increases.

Keywords: tax policy, quality of life, direct democracy, voting, taxation, local government

1. Introduction

Citizens are occasionally asked to make specific policy decisions that elected officials are either unable or unwilling to make directly. Among the most common policies where specific voter approval is sought is the leveling of new taxes at the local level. Much has been made of the inability of citizens to make clearly rational decisions when faced with simple survey questions. (Campbell, Converse, Miller, & Stokes, 1960) If this view of the inability of citizens is correct, what does the average voter do when asked to make a decision about a specific policy issue?

If citizens are simply guessing when making these decisions finding consistent patterns that relate to theoretically important variables should be nearly impossible. It is these patterns that the political scientist seeks to find, validate, and test empirically. This study is no different, I identify a specific pattern that has the theoretic ability to explain how citizens decide tax issues placed before them on the ballot, and using election results from two hundred and twenty two counties, I test whether a discernible pattern of decision making can be identified.

How decisions get made:

Determining how members of the public develop and maintain opinions about political issues is a topic that has been hotly discussed. Despite the lack of information by many in the that lack does not prevent them from indicating preferences on policy issues, especially when asked to vote on policy outcomes. Citizens can identify what they dislike, if not why they dislike it, in short they have opinions. This understanding matches the literature's assertions about individual information processing, how information is used in making decisions, and how preferred policy outcomes are identified.

One theory asserts that voters who lack information are unable or unlikely to gain information and therefore answer policy questions in a way that is little better than random guessing. (Converse, 1964) As evidence Converse and others highlight a tendency of respondents to answer policy questions even when they lack specific information about the policy in question. (Campbell, Converse, Miller, & Stokes, 1960) These authors laid the groundwork for exploring why respondents answer in this way, and how respondents reach conclusions without all the information. A review of the literature, however, makes it apparent that something more than random guessing is occurring; respondents are utilizing decision strategies that draw on the limited information they have to answer questions when asked (Popkin, 1991). The use of information by individuals when considering public policy, begs the question of how that information is used and what influences its use.

John Zaller (1992) in, "The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion", proposes that individuals form opinions based on pieces of information that have become salient in their daily activities. As they are faced with situations where decision making is necessary they draw on the information that is available. Decisions are made and information is used based on prior experience, saliency, heuristic value, and other factors that push information in an individual's active consideration. This model of decision making, unlike Converses assertion that individuals are merely guessing, or are minimally using information as suggested by Popkin, is supplanted by information intensive processes where the individuals rely on a relatively large amount of information to make decisions. …

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