In United States, politicians often criticize each other for allegedly avoiding, or even evading, taxes. For example, Donald Trump heavily criticized President Barack Obama for paying only 20.5%:

There's always a twit

…and then paid $750 per year himself. Twice.

I'm not discussing that it is a criminal offense or the moral side of the problem. But it seems to me that many people avoid and sometimes evade taxes here and there, and only a small fraction of those get actually punished. (Comparing number of scandals versus number of imprisoned ones.)

Even more so, if someone is in an elected position, this implies that the majority of voters trust this person and let them do what they do, including the tax evasion.

Why is it such a big deal that people consider avoiding, or even evading, taxes bad for elected officials?

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    Tax evasion is illegal by definition; you are referring to tax avoidance Sep 28, 2020 at 10:51
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    Tax avoidance is using legal loopholes and sleight of hand to pay less taxes by leveraging losses. It's not nice but it's not illegal. Tax evasion is flat-out lying about your income, which is illegal. At worst, he's accusing Obama of the former, whereas the current investigation in NYC indicates he's guilty of the latter.
    – Shadur
    Sep 28, 2020 at 12:54
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    @bytebusterforLongUsernames I don't think we can tell, but investigators can if they dig deep enough (which doesn't normally happen with limited resources and millions of tax returns). As for your question, I think there are two higher level questions: 1) 'Why is tax evasion illegal?', and 2) 'Why is it a big deal if elected officials don't follow the law?' Maybe it would be better to consider those two separately?
    – JJJ
    Sep 28, 2020 at 14:46
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    @bytebusterforLongUsernames #2 is definitely a bit more philosophical and open to multiple views. On the other hand, it is something we take for granted (like you might assume gravity exists in a physics class) but nevertheless I think it's a fair question why we tend to make that assumption.
    – JJJ
    Sep 28, 2020 at 15:12
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    "if someone is in an elected position, this implies that the majority of voters trust this person"; except the president, who won a minority of the vote.
    – dandavis
    Sep 28, 2020 at 21:01

4 Answers 4


The main issue here is hypocricy. Accusing an opponent of some wrongdoing while oneself not living up to the principles supposedly held dear.

So either Trump should have kept from tweeting that nonsense because he is entirely fine with avoiding as much tax as possible or he should have released his tax returns showing that he is paying his due which by that tweet should be something far more than 20 %.

The main point about politicians is not whether they are left or right, but whether they follow their own principles. If they do not, they are not even trustworthy within their self declared political ideology and ideals. Which is a trust problem or at least should be because politicians are elected into their positions mainly because of their word and the principles they display. And even if I do not agree with some politician I at least want to be capable to trust that he is acting faithfully in his own framework.


One key factor you have to remember is the Republican party problems with certain groups not paying taxes.


Here's a fresh quote from the latest non-Romney front-runner in the GOP presidential race. "This dividing of America [between] 99-1," Rick Santorum said this morning in New Hampshire, "It's anybody that makes money and pays taxes and everybody who doesn't. That's the 99-1."

Santorum (like Michele Bachmann before him) is picking a fight with the millions of Americans who make money and don't pay federal income taxes. For the last few years, this group has accounted for about half of the country. The statistic inspired a website, "We Are the 53 Percent," which called out the 47% (or more) of households who owed no federal income tax in 2010 and again in 2011, because tax credits and deductions wiped out their liability.

Here we have evidence that shows Republicans stating that poorer Americans not paying taxes is a problem and we see that one of the supposed richest Americans and leader of the Republican party is appearing to pay little to no taxes. In the end it breaks down to the stance that some have that everyone should pay their fair share in taxes and it turns out the people that are saying it are not paying anywhere near that.


If someone is an elected position, this implies that the majority of voters trust this person and let them do what they do, including the tax evasion.

First in in reluctant fairness to the current POTUS, my understanding is that the NY Times alleged tax avoidance not (criminal) evasion. There is a gray area between avoidance and evasion, of course.

Election does not imply or give anyone immunity, either moral or legal.

What election is supposed to mean is that the image you presented of yourself is the one the electorate in it's entirety has a right to expect you to follow.

It does not say "we trust you" and it definitely does not say "do whatever you want".

The outrage at these claims about the alleged tax avoidance of the current POTUS simply shows that most voters do not accept that being voted into office gives you either legal or moral immunity.

If you claim you're fair and honest in paying tax and it turns out you spend more on accountants and lawyers to avoid paying it that you did pay in taxes, that will, not unsurprisingly, lead to all those people who cannot even afford an accountant (or rent or vacations or medical cover) shouting "foul" really loudly.

People have demonstrated by complaining that, no, being elected does not endorse bad behavior.

Regarding Trust. Gallup published a survey that shows that (by 2016) trust in US politicians had fallen steadily from 68% in 1974 to a miserable 42% in 2016. So it is clear that far from trusting politicians voted into office, there is a clear trend to distrust them.

Note that the trends cross party lines. Democrats don't trust democrats and Republicans don't trust Republicans and both have very similar trends down.

Good healthy cynicism. Well done, America - a step in the right direction. :-)


One of the functions of an elected government is deciding tax. The argument goes "They are making me pay too much, but not paying themselves, that's unfair"

The quote is not claiming that Obama illegally didn't pay tax that he should, but that he set the tax such that he didn't have to pay as much.

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