Data

09.21.12

The 'Maker' States: More Taxed, More Pro-Obama

States that pay the most per person to the federal government favor Obama.

Are you a “taker”? Do you “feel like a victim”?

No? All right, let’s say you’re a “maker.” Most of us are. Although 47 percent of Americans don’t pay income tax, almost all of us pay up to Uncle Sam through other individual taxes.

So, let’s ask a broader question: how much of a “maker” are you? That answer depends a great deal on where you live. Combining 2011 IRS and Census data, I've calculated the federal government’s per-capita revenue, by state, from individual income, estate, trust, and employment taxes (for Medicare, unemployment insurance, and Social Security).

States vary wildly. The District of Columbia leads the pack. Its average citizen pays the federal government $30,961 in individual taxes. West Virginia is last, at $3,234 per person.

When you start combining that data with poll numbers, things get interesting. Contra Mitt, the states that pay the most, per capita, to the federal government are also the ones that are currently polling best for Obama. For a full picture, I’ve compared the revenue data with the latest available presidential polling for all 50 states. (For these, I turned to HuffPost’s excellent pollster database, as well as most recent reported polls on RealClearPolitics.) 

Here’s my interactive visualization of that data. Further to the right means more pro-Obama, further to the left, more pro-Romney. Mouse over each bubble to see the specific poll spread for that state, and the average amount the federal government takes in from each of its citizens. (I’ve excluded D.C., because it’s such an outlier.)

By excluding business income taxes, our picture is more narrowly focused on flesh-and-blood people. And our per-capita approach gives us an idea of each state’s average taxpayer, avoiding the geographic pockets of poverty and wealth that tend to skew red-state-blue-state economic comparisons.

Here’s the same data a little more expanded, with a trendline.

ev.owa

Mitt Romney may be right to fear that the 47 percent of Americans who pay no income tax might not vote for him. According to the Tax Policy Center, 82.8 percent of the income-tax-less live in households that make less than $33,542 a year; and according to Gallup, Obama leads by 15 points among those with incomes under $36,000.

But when you start looking at all individual taxes, it becomes clear that the nation’s makers—those who put the most per capita into the collective pot—are pulling harder for the president.