Changing taxpayer attitudes and increasing taxpayer compliance: the role of individual differences in taxpayers

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Virginia Tech


The level of taxpayer compliance has steadily decreased over the years. Individual taxpayers failed to report approximately $100 billion in federal taxes due on legal income received in 1989. The compliance gap is large enough to greatly reduce the federal government deficit.

Studies employing psychological cognitive structure approaches to analyzing taxpayer compliance and attempting to increase taxpayer compliance employ theories related to equity sensitivity, attitude formation, and change. These studies generally examine relationships between compliance and socioeconomic and situational variables. Appeals to a taxpayer's moral obligation to pay taxes have been studied as a means to change taxpayer attitudes and intentions and thereby increase compliance.

The present study sought to determine if taxpayer compliance could be enhanced by sanction threats or by appeals to conscience. The study also endeavored to discover if compliance differed between various types of taxpayers. These individual differences were posited to cause taxpayers to react differently to alternative types of interventions aimed at increasing compliance to income tax law. A laboratory study was designed to gauge a subject's sensitivity to equity, administer intervention techniques, and measure compliance and attitude toward taxation.

The data were analyzed using Multivariate Analysis of Variance (MANOVA). Although the results of the study showed no significant main effect for treatment type, a significant main effect (p = .0075) was found for Equity Sensitivity type when the scenario depicting Overstating Business Expenses was the dependent variable in the design. There were no significant main effects for Equity Sensitivity type or treatment type when the six attitude items were used as the dependent variables in a MANOVA.