Percentage of Americans Who Say It’s OK to Cheat ‘As Much as Possible’ on Taxes Has Doubled

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The vast majority of citizens feel that it’s never OK under any circumstances to cheat on your income taxes. But, in a survey conducted last year by the IRS, the percentage of people thought it was acceptable to cheat “as much as possible” doubled compared to 2010.

The just-released IRS’s 2011 Taxpayer Attitude Survey notes that most Americans continue to feel that paying their taxes in full are part of their civic duty. When asked the question, “How much, if any, do you think is an acceptable amount to cheat on your income taxes?” 84% answered “not at all.” Meanwhile, 96% completely agree or mostly agree (at least in theory) with the statement “It is every American’s civic duty to pay their fair share of taxes.”

At the same time, though, the number of people who say that—as long as you can get away with it—it’s OK to cheat on your taxes has spiked. In the 2011 survey, when asked the question about how much is an acceptable amount to cheat on income taxes, 8% of respondents said “as much as possible.” In 2010 and 2009, just 4% said it was OK to cheat as much as possible. Other than 2011, in any recent year that the question was asked, the figure has never been higher than 5%.

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Correspondingly, while the percentage of people who think it’s never acceptable to cheat sounds impressive at 84%, it’s actually down 3 percentage points from the year before.

So what happened in 2011 to make it seem slightly more acceptable to rip off the tax man?

First off, let’s make it clear that the change is slight. We’re talking a minor shift in sentiment, not major upheaval. While the percentage saying it was OK to cheat “as much as possible” went from 4 to 8, the percentage who thought it was acceptable to cheat “a little here and there” actually shrunk from 8% to 6% from 2010 to 2011. So, overall, 14% of respondents said it was OK to cheat here or there or as much as possible in 2011, compared to 12% in 2010, 13% in 2009, and 9% in 2008.

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In any event, what with 2011 being the Year of the Protester and all, it’s clear that a rising number of people feel that the status quo is unfair. The rich don’t pay enough in taxes, and the opportunities for upward mobility don’t exist to the extent they did in the past.

If people think that the system is unfair, and that everybody cheats—the rich especially—it’s much easier to justify the idea that there’s nothing wrong with cheating as much as possible, or at least a little bit here and there.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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