Framing Effects on Preferences for the Income Tax System

Darius Fatemi, John Hasseldine


Lack of public support for a tax system can lead to its demise, as demonstrated by the UK poll tax debacle. On the other hand, McCaffery and Baron (2004) argue that the politicians who best frame their arguments will rally public support to sustain the tax system. The present study examines how varying the frames on income tax attributes affects underlying attitudes toward the system. Most prior tax research on framing effects has not made a distinction between different types of framing effects as it has only examined risky choice framing. This study specifically analyzes attribute frames, and particularly focuses on equivalency and emphasis framing. The findings illustrate and document significant effects for these types of frames. For example, taxpayers are significantly more positive about 50 percent of taxpayers paying 4 percent of the taxes than they are about 50 percent of taxpayers paying 96 percent of the taxes. In addition, taxpayer preferences measured using descriptors such as “fair” or “unfair”, and “positive” or “negative”, affect the relationship between attributes and intentions to support the current tax system. Thus, equivalency and emphasis framing not only affect attitudes toward a specific attribute, but also influence how these attributes are weighted when determining overall tax system support.

Keywords: Tax Compliance, Taxpayer Preferences, Tax Attitudes, Framing Effects, Attribute Frames.

Full Text:



Biddle, N., Fels, K. M., & Sinning, M. (2018). Behavioral insights on business taxation: Evidence from two natural experiments. Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Finance, 18, 30-49.

Boudreau, C., & MacKenzie, S. A. (2018). Wanting What Is Fair: How Party Cues and Information about Income Inequality Affect Public Support for Taxes. Journal of Politics, 80(2), 367-381.

Chong, D., & Druckman, J. N. (2007). Framing Theory. Annual Review of Political Science, 10(1), 103-126.

Druckman, J. N. (2001). The Implications of Framing Effects for Citizen Competence. Political Behavior, 23(3), 225-256.

Dunegan, K. J. (1993). Framing, cognitive modes, and image theory: Toward an understanding of a glass half full. Journal of Applied Psychology, 78(3), 491-503.

Feinberg, M., & Willer, R. (2015). From Gulf to Bridge: When Do Moral Arguments Facilitate Political Influence? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 41(12), 1665-1681.

Hasseldine, J., & Hite, P.A. (2003). The Effects of Attribute Framing and Political Party Affiliation on Taxpayer Preferences. eJournal of Tax Research, 1(1), 5-18.

Highhouse, S., & Paese, P. W. (1996). Problem Domain and Prospect Frame: Choice under Opportunity versus Threat. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 22(2), 124-132.

Hite, P. A., & Roberts, M. L. (1991). An Experimental Investigation of Taxpayer Judgments on Rate Structure in the Individual Income Tax System. Journal of the American Taxation Association, 13(2), 47-63.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS). (2018). Statistics of Income (SOI) Bulletin, 37(3).

Internal Revenue Service Oversight Board (IRSOB). (2014). IRS Oversight Board: Annual Report to Congress, 2014. Washington, D.C., USA: IRSOB.

James, S. (2017). Taxation and nudging. In M. Altman (Ed.), Handbook of Behavioural Economics and Smart Decision-Making: Rational Decision-Making within the Bounds of Reason (pp. 317-330). Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd.

Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1979). Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk. Econometrica, 47(2), 263-292.

Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1982). The psychology of preferences. Scientific American, 246(1), 160-173.

Lamberton, C., DeNeve, J-E., & Norton, M. (2018). The Power of Voice in Stimulating Morality: Eliciting Taxpayer Preferences Increases Tax Compliance. Journal of Consumer Psychology,28(2), 310-328.

Levin, I. P. (1987). Associative effects of information framing. Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, 25(2), 85-86.

Levin, I. P. & Gaeth, G. J. (1988). How Consumers are Affected by the Framing of Attribute Information Before and After Consuming the Product. Journal of Consumer Research, 15(3), 374-378.

Levin, I. P., Schneider, S. L., & Gaeth, G. J. (1998). All Frames Are Not Created Equal: A Typology and Critical Analysis of Framing Effects. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 76(2), 149-188.

Lymer, A., & Oats, L. (2017). Taxation: Policy and Practice (24th edition, 2017/18). Birmingham, UK: Fiscal Publications.

McCaffery, E. J., & Baron, J. (2004). Framing and taxation: Evaluation of tax policies involving household composition. Journal of Economic Psychology, 25(6), 679-705.

McCaffery, E. J., & Baron, J. (2006). Thinking about tax. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 12(1), 106-135.

Meyerowitz, B. E., & Chaiken, S. (1987). The effect of message framing on breast self-examination attitudes, intentions, and behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(3), 500-510.

Onu, D. (2016). Measuring Tax Compliance Attitudes: What Surveys Can Tell Us about Tax Compliance Behaviour. In J. Hasseldine (Ed.), Advances in Taxation, Volume 23 (pp. 173-190). Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

Payne, J. W., Laughhunn, D. J., & Crum, R. (1984). Multiattribute Risky Choice Behavior: The Editing of Complex Prospects. Management Science, 30(11), 1268-1387.

Petty, R.E., & Briñol, P. (2008). Psychological Processes Underlying Persuasion: A Social Psychological Approach. Diogenes, 55(1), 52-67.

Porcano, T. M. (1984). Distributive Justice and Tax Policy. The Accounting Review, 59(4), 619-636.

Reimers, S. (2009). A paycheck half-empty or half-full? Framing, fairness and progressive taxation. Judgment and Decision Making, 4(6), 461-466.

Roberts, M. L. (1994). An experimental approach to changing taxpayers’ attitudes towards fairness and compliance via television. The Journal of American Taxation Association, 16(1), 67-86.

Roth, J. A., Scholz, J. T., & Witte, A. D. (Eds.). (1989). Taxpayer Compliance. Volume 1: An Agenda for Research. Philadelphia, USA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Rothman, A. J., & Salovey, P. (1997). Shaping Perceptions to Motivate Healthy Behavior: The Role of Message Framing. Psychological Bulletin, 121(1), 3-19.

Stanley, L., & Hartman, T. K. (2018). Tax Preferences, Fiscal Transparency, and the Meaning of Welfare: An Experimental Study. Political Studies, 66(4), 830-850.

Thaler, R. H., & Sunstein, C. R. (2008). Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. New Haven, USA: Yale University Press.

van der Pas, D. (2014). Making Hay While the Sun Shines: Do Parties Only Respond to Media Attention When the Framing Is Right? The International Journal of Press/Politics, 19(1), 42-65.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright ©  Journal of Tax Administration. All rights reserved. | Hosted by Docuracy Ltd | Powered by Open Journal Systems