Governments Misspend More Than Half of Our Taxes–Global Poll

Governments Misspend More Than Half of Our Taxes–Global Poll

September 27, 2010

Full Report (PDF)

People believe that their government misspends more than half the money they pay in tax, according to the findings of a new BBC World Service global poll across 22 countries–but many are still looking to government to play a more active economic role.

The poll of more than 22,000 people, conducted by GlobeScan/PIPA, found that people estimated on average that 52 per cent of the money they pay in tax is not used in ways that serve the interests and values of the people of their country.

Despite this lack of trust in government to spend tax money responsibly, the poll found on some measures there is a near global consensus for increased government action. Nearly four in five around the world (78%), and majorities in all but one of 22 countries polled, think that government should subsidise food to keep prices for the consumer down, with only 18 per cent disagreeing. Two-thirds overall (67%), and majorities in 19 out of 22 countries, think that government regulation and oversight of their national economy needs to be increased–the US, Turkey and Spain are the only exceptions.

Other government interventions achieve slim majority support. In 14 of 22 countries most people–on average 56 per cent–favour an increase in government spending to stimulate the economy. This includes large majorities of Egyptians (91%), Mexicans (80%), Russians and Indonesians (both 78%), and Nigerians (73%). But majorities are opposed in a number of industrialised countries that had large stimulus programmes–Germany (66%), France (63%) and the US (58%).

On average 51 per cent also want their government to take steps now to address their deficit and debt, while 39 per cent are opposed. The United Kingdom is among the countries where support for deficit reduction measures is higher, at 60 per cent. Asked whether they would prefer their government to focus on tax rises or service cuts in dealing with their country’s deficit and debt, in every country but Egypt more people said they preferred a focus on cutting services (on average 54%) than on increasing taxes (14%).

The results show that people who think a large proportion of their taxes are misspent are also less supportive of their government taking steps to address the deficit. While among those who estimate a third or less is misspent, a majority of 57 per cent is in favour of taking action on the deficit and debt, those who estimate that two-thirds or more of their taxes are misspent are divided (45% in favour, 45% opposed).

Providing financial support to banks in trouble is only supported by forty-four per cent on average of those polled — lower than for any other government action measured in the poll. A total of 14 countries have majorities opposing more bank bailouts, but eight countries are in favour.

The results are drawn from a survey of 22,783 adult citizens across 22 countries. It was conducted for BBC World Service by the international polling firm GlobeScan together with the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland. GlobeScan coordinated fieldwork between June and September 2010. Full-sample results are considered accurate within +/- 2.1 to 3.5 per cent 19 times out of 20. Some questions were asked of half samples.

Doug Miller, GlobeScan Chairman comments, “As countries struggle to achieve economic recovery, citizens want more active government, but also more effective government intervention in the economy to meet the real needs of citizens, including stabilising food prices.”

Steven Kull, PIPA’s Director, adds: “Beliefs that the government misspends public moneys may arise from perceptions of corrupt government officials, from perceptions of special interests having undue influence, or from repeatedly hearing opposition parties assert that the party in power is wasting their money.”

Detailed Findings

The countries with the lowest average estimate of misspent tax money were Spain (average 34% misspent), Indonesia (40%), Azerbaijan and Egypt (both 42%). The highest were in Columbia (74% misspent) and Pakistan (69%). In the world’s two largest economies, Americans estimate on average that 55 per cent of their taxes are misspent, while in China the figure is 46 per cent.

Despite low overall support, there is strong backing for government bank bailouts in major developing nations like India and Nigeria (77%), the Philippines (75%) and China (59%). But the world’s major developed economies have majorities opposed to further government bank bailouts–including Germany (84% opposed), Canada (77%), France and the US (both 68%).

As well as being less likely to support action to address the deficit, those who have the highest estimates of tax misspending are less likely to support government stimulus spending–among those who think that more than three-quarters of their tax money is misspent, only 47 per cent believe the government should spend to stimulate the economy.

The poll also asked consumers to say whether they expected their nation to experience good or bad economic times over the next year, and reveals that consumer expectations remain subdued, particularly in the world’s major economies. On average across 21 countries over the next year only 30 per cent expect good times. Twenty-six per cent expect bad times and 36 per cent expect equally good and bad times. Among the 17 countries polled in 2009 and 2010, there was only a slight increase (two points) in those expecting good times and slight decrease (three points) in those expecting bad times.

In only five countries is the dominant view that in the next 12 months good times will return. All of these are developing countries led by India (62%), Nigeria (61%), and Brazil (57%), as well as China (51%) and the Philippines (43%).

The most pessimistic countries–those predominantly expecting bad times–are led by the developed countries of the United Kingdom (58%), France (54%), and also include the US (44%), and Spain (38%)–although numbers of pessimists in Spain have dropped 19 points since 2009. However some developing countries lean toward a pessimistic view as well–Mexico (54%), Pakistan (45%), and Turkey (41%).

In total 22,783 citizens in 22 countries, were interviewed face-to-face or by telephone between June 24 and September 5, 2010. Some questions were asked of half samples. Polling was conducted for BBC World Service by the international polling firm GlobeScan and its research partners in each country. In nine of the 22 countries, the sample was limited to major urban areas. The margin of error per country ranges from +/-2.1 to 3.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.


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