The rich, say the rich, should be paying more in taxes. Problem is, most aren't aware the label applies to them.
Slightly more than 70 percent of millionaires agree with Warren Buffett that the wealthy should pay more in taxes -- a notion he proposed in an August New York Times op-ed -- but only 22 percent say that Buffett's proposal applies to them, according to the PNC Wealth Management and Social Responsibility survey.
With regards to their personal situations, though, millionaires are much more likely to proclaim their need for financial solitude. Sixty-four percent of the respondents said that they "want to be left alone by politicians" so that they can enjoy their money without interference.
The findings come as Republican presidential candidates duke it out on the national stage, putting tax policy into the spotlight. At a debate last night in South Carolina ahead of the state's primary, the candidates tried to outdo one another by calling for lower taxes, the Associated Press reports. Mitt Romney, the front-runner for the nomination and former head of private equity firm Bain Capital, said in a press conference that he pays a tax rate of about 15 percent, a lower share than most middle-class Americans, according to ThinkProgress.
Cutting taxes on the rich could be a hard sell -- two-thirds of Republicans said in a Daily Kos poll in September that they supported the Buffett rule. But if the candidates are able to lower taxes on the wealthy, it could mean a boost in income inequality. Between 1996 and 2006 a more regressive tax code contributed to a rising wealth gap, according to a study released earlier this month by the Congressional Research Service.
Even under the current tax code, the wealth gap is higher than it was in ancient Rome, a recent study by two historians found. And the income gap has been growing for years. Between 1979 and 2007 the top one percent of Americans saw their incomes rise by 275 percent, while the bottom fifth of earners saw their incomes grow by 20 percent during the same period, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Though millionaires may not want to give more of their money to taxes to help close the wealth gap, most feel an obligation to those who are less fortunate, according to the PNC survey. Seventy percent of respondents said they bear "a special responsibility" to help people with less. Still, a sizable minority -- 22 percent -- plan to or have already cut back on charitable giving, the survey found.
The findings contradict other studies about compassion among the wealthy. People who grew up in more financially secure situations are less likely to feel empathy for the suffering of others, according to a study released last month by researchers at the University of California-Berkeley.