Cognitive Responses to Partitioned Pricing of Consumption Taxes: Consequences for State and Local Tax Revenues

Cynthia Blanthorne and Michael L. Roberts
The Journal of the American Taxation Association, Vol. 37, Issue 1, pp. 183-204

How do taxpayers respond cognitively to add-on sales taxes versus all-inclusive excise taxes? If structural variations produce cognitive differences, then do the differences affect buying behavior? These are important questions because consumer spending drives the U.S. economy and directly determines the amount of tax revenues collected from consumption taxes.

If the negative opinion that people have about taxes (Tax Foundation 2009) increases the saliency of the tax, then an add-on sales tax might decrease consumer spending more than an all-inclusive excise tax pricing structure. Instead, results suggest that demand is higher when the add-on component is a sales tax as compared to an excise tax that is embedded into the total price. The effects on demand are even more pronounced and people recall lower prices when the add-on sales tax is presented as a percentage of the base price—as is generally the case in the U.S.—rather than as an additional currency component.