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Joshua Gillin
By Joshua Gillin January 11, 2017

Trump wrong that Americans don't care about his tax returns

In his first press conference since July 2016, President-elect Donald Trump scolded reporters for asking about his tax returns, saying members of the media are the only ones who care about the records.

Trump said on Jan. 11, 2017, that he had no financial ties or business deals with Russia. He then dismissed the concerns of a reporter who asked Trump whether he would be releasing his tax returns to prove it.

"I’m not releasing the tax returns because, as you know, they’re under audit," Trump said. The reporter pointed out that presidents have been releasing their returns since the 1970s. Trump interrupted her and said, "Oh, gee, I never heard that."

"You know, the only one that cares about my tax returns are the reporters, okay? They’re the only ones," he said, saying he thought the American public isn’t concerned about it. "I won; I mean, I became president. No, I don’t think they care at all. I don’t think they care at all. I think you care."

Media outlets have called for Trump to release his returns throughout his campaign, and have increased calls since his election. Trump and his surrogates have offered myriad excuses as to why he won’t release any information. But are they the only people who care whether he does it?

Polling data consistently shows that overall, a majority of Americans want to know what’s in Trump’s tax records.

The vocal majority

It’s been common practice for decades for presidential candidates to release their tax returns. Despite Trump’s argument that he isn’t releasing his because he’s being audited, the IRS has said he’s allowed to release them whether he’s under an audit or not (as Richard Nixon did).

Tax returns show a lot of details about a president’s business dealings and financial background, much more than, say, campaign finance disclosures, which Trump has offered as an alternative. That explains the media interest, which Trump has attacked before.

Trump’s transition team did not elaborate on his statement when we contacted them, but he is wrong to say that the public doesn’t care, by most polls.

One such poll taken before Trump's news conference confirms most Americans said he should release the returns. 

Featured Fact-check

Pew Research Center released a new poll Jan. 10, on the eve of Trump’s latest press conference, that re-examined how voters felt. The poll showed that close to two-thirds of Americans think the issue is important. The poll was conducted Jan. 4-9 among 1,502 adults with a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points for the total sample.

Sixty percent of the people polled by Pew said Trump has a responsibility to publicly release his tax returns. The numbers do vary broadly depending on political affiliation, however — 38 percent of Republicans or those leaning Republican agree he has a responsibility, compared to 79 percent of Democrats or those leaning to the left.

There was a lot more polling about this topic before the Nov. 8 election. The way the questions were framed varies from poll to poll, so it's difficult to compare the figures directly. But generally they illustrate that Americans think Trump's tax returns are a serious issue. 

A Quinnipiac University poll released Aug. 25, 2016, showed that 74 percent of all voters said Trump should release his tax returns publicly. That figure dipped only slightly among Republicans, 62 percent of whom said he should release them.

A Monmouth University poll the same week said that 62 percent of Americans thought it was either somewhat or very important to them that presidential candidates release their tax returns.

A Fox News poll released Sept. 7 showed that 60 percent of voters, including 36 percent of Republicans and 83 percent of Democrats, thought Trump was hiding something in his tax returns.

On Sept. 21, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed that 52 percent of voters were concerned about Trump not releasing his tax returns. The choice was among several options about voters’ areas of concern about both Trump and Clinton. "Trump’s comments and language about women, immigrants and Muslims" was the top concern with 69 percent, and "Trump not having the right temperament to serve as commander in chief" was second with 66 percent. "Trump’s praise for Vladimir Putin" also ranked as a higher concern, at 59 percent.

One outlier was when Fox News asked voters in a poll conducted Sept. 27-29 whether "the fact that Donald Trump hasn’t released his tax returns bother you, or is it no big deal?" Forty-six percent of respondents answered "bothers me," while 52 percent said it was "no big deal." But even that tally shows about half of Americans were concerned that Trump hadn't released his tax returns.

Our ruling

Trump said Americans don't "care at all" about his tax returns.

Several polls, including one released the day before his latest press conference, show that a sizable portion of the public does think Trump’s tax returns are an important issue. These polls word their questions differently, but most results showed a majority of Americans believed the issue was relevant, undermining Trump’s assertion that only the media wants to explore the issue.

We rate Trump’s statement False.

https://www.sharethefacts.co/share/9c5fd034-a5d4-4f80-96a0-0cedc9ee06ac

Our Sources

Donald Trump, comments at press conference, Jan. 11, 2017

PunditFact, "Most GOP nominees since 1970s have released their tax returns, Fox's Chris Wallace says," May 18, 2016

Quinnipiac University, "Clinton Tops 50 Percent, Leads Trump By 10 Points, Quinnipiac University National Poll Finds; Voters Like Clinton More Than Trump — But Not Much," Aug. 25, 2016

Monmouth University, "Clinton Holds Lead Amid Record High Dislike of Both Nominees," Aug. 29, 2016

Fox News, "Fox News Poll: 60% Believe Trump Is Hiding Something in Tax Returns," Sept. 7, 2016

PolitiFact, "Donald Trump says his financial disclosures more than make up for lack of releasing tax returns," Sept. 7, 2016

Washington Post, "All the excuses Trump has given for why he won’t release his tax returns," Sept. 15, 2016

Washington Post, "This number explains why Donald Trump probably won’t ever release his tax returns," Sept. 21, 2016

NBC News, "Poll: Nearly 70 Percent Have Concerns About Trump's Controversial Comments," Sept. 21, 2016

Fox News, "Fox News Poll: Clinton ahead of Trump after debate, fear motivating both sides," Sept. 30, 2016

PolitiFact, "Factsheet: Donald Trump’s tax returns," Oct. 3, 2016

PolitiFact Virginia, "Tim Kaine correctly notes Richard Nixon released tax returns despite audit," Oct. 5, 2016

Pew Research Center, "Negative Views of Trump’s Transition, Amid Concerns About Conflicts, Tax Returns," Jan. 10, 2017

CNBC, "Transcript of President-elect Trump's news conference," Jan. 11, 2017

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