This evening, the Washington State Senate Ways & Means Committee is hearing testimony on Senate Bill 5096, which would levy a capital gains tax at the state level to fund essential public services and make our upside down tax code more equitable. Prime sponsored by Senator June Robinson (D‑38th District), SB 5096 would levy a nine percent capital gains tax beginning January 1st, 2022.
A short time ago, I testified in support of the bill on NPI’s behalf, urging that it be given a “do pass recommendation”, and explaining that our research has consistently found stable support among Washington voters for a capital gains tax on the wealthy for more than half a decade.
We first asked voters in Washington how they feel about a capital gains tax in 2015, and we have continued to ask every year since then.
Our May 2020 responses are below.
Capital gains tax poll finding (May of 2020)
QUESTION: Do you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose taxing the capital gains of wealthy individuals to help pay for public schools, colleges and universities?
- Support: 59%
- Strongly Support: 42%
- Somewhat Support: 17%
- Oppose: 32%
- Somewhat Oppose: 11%
- Strongly Oppose: 21%
- Not Sure: 9%
Note that more respondents said they strongly support a capital gains tax on the wealthy than the total number who said they were opposed.
We also found in that same survey about that an almost identical percentage of voters feel that schools in Washington are still underfunded, despite the Legislature’s work to respond to the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision.
School funding poll finding (May of 2020)
QUESTION: Do you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree with the following statement: Washington’s public schools are underfunded, and we need to raise state revenue to fully fund them?
- Agree: 60%
- Strongly agree: 35%
- Somewhat agree: 25%
- Disagree: 31%
- Somewhat disagree: 15%
- Strongly disagree: 16%
- Not Sure: 9%
Our May 2020 survey of 1,070 likely 2020 Washington State voters was in the field from Tuesday, May 19th through Wednesday, May 20th, 2020.
It utilizes a blended methodology, with automated phone calls to landlines and text message answers from cell phone only respondents.
The poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling for the Northwest Progressive Institute, and has a margin of error of +/- 3.0% at the 95% confidence level.
As mentioned, we’ve always found majorities in support of dedicating a capital gains tax on high earners to education. However, there’s also strong support among Washingtonians for a hybrid approach, with some revenue being dedicated to schools and some revenue being dedicated to lowering taxes for low and middle income families who currently pay more than their fair share, as we can see from the responses to this question that we asked in October of 2019.
Capital gains tax poll finding (October of 2019)
QUESTION: If Washington’s Legislature levies a state capital gains tax on the sale of assets like stocks, bonds, or precious metals by the very wealthy, how should the revenue be used: do you think the money should go only to the Education Legacy Trust account to fund early learning, public schools, colleges, and universities; should the money be used exclusively to reduce taxes for low income families and small business owners; or should the money be used for a combination of education funding and reductions in taxes for low income families and small business owners?
- Think revenue should go only to the Education Legacy Trust account: 21%
- Think it should be used exclusively to reduce taxes for low income families and small business owners: 12%
- Think it should be used for a combination of education funding and reductions in taxes: 48%
- Not Sure: 19%
Our October 2019 survey of nine hundred likely 2019 Washington State voters was in the field October 22nd-23rd, 2019.
The survey used a blended methodology with automated phone calls to landlines and text messages to cell phone only respondents.
As with the May 2020 survey, this poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling for NPI, and has a margin of error of +/- 3.3% at the 95% confidence level.
Unlike Crosscut/Elway, when we ask about support for a capital gains tax in our statewide surveys, we always mention what it could hypothetically pay for. That’s because you cannot accurately gauge how voters feel about a proposed revenue measure unless you tell them how the revenue would be used. All budgets contain appropriations; otherwise, they would not make any sense.
There are two sides to every mathematical equation, and leaving out the investment side will yield flawed data every time. Taxes have a purpose. Thy can and should be thought of as investments. By pooling our resources together, according to our ability to pay, we can afford great public services that allow us to lead more fulfilling lives and be economically secure.
One more note about our polling: In public opinion research, it’s important to have a representative sample. Otherwise, the data could be flawed. Unlike the instant polls you sometimes see on television (Sinclair’s KOMO is very fond of those), or polls on social networks, our polls are scientifically accurate.
Our pollster uses a blended methodology to ensure that the sample is representative. Blended means that responses are gathered through more than one medium. It’s not sufficient just to call people at their homes anymore because many people (and almost all young people) don’t have landlines anymore.
The notion of accounting for “cellphone only voters” has also become dated. Nowadays, an outright majority of respondents to our periodic statewide surveys do so via text message. That was true for both our October 2019 poll and our May 2020 poll, which the questions above are from.
Our electoral polling serves as a measuring stick to allow us to gauge how representative our samples are. In October of 2020, we polled on every single statewide candidate election and released the results right here on the Cascadia Advocate. In each race we polled, our research correctly foreshadowed the winner, even in races where there were large numbers of undecided voters.
We are proud of our strong partnership with Public Policy Polling and the work that we put into ensuring that our questions are neutrally worded.
It has been over half a decade since Governor Jay Inslee first proposed a capital gains tax as part of his budget. Though much has changed during those six years, one thing hasn’t: voters’ enthusiasm for making our tax code more equitable with a capital gains tax on the wealthy. We’ve talked about doing this for long enough. Voters have elected strong Democratic majorities for two cycles running now. They want and expect results. It’s time for the Legislature to deliver.