National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee

Setting Up a Penny Poll

Never done a Penny Poll? This simple activity is one way to have more interaction with passersby about government spending priorities. It challenges each of us to think about how tax dollars are being spent and how we would like them spent.

Activitsts have often set up penny polls on tax day outside the IRS or post office, but the growing questions about war spending make anytime a great time to set up a penny poll. Some groups set up tables on college campuses or in libraries – especially if the weather is uncooperative for outdoor tabling. Peace fairs, conferences, downtown plazas are other possibilities.

Bangor penny poll
Bangor, Maine

Poll results can be sent out in press releases to local media and posted on websites.

How do you do a Penny Poll? The photos and descriptions from groups around the country on this page indicate that there as many styles of polls as there are groups. Use your imagination and the resources at hand.

Although called a “penny poll,” some groups use nickels; others use beans instead of coins.

Some groups use cups or cut down plastic bottles to collect the coins or beans; some use an assortment of jars; some use matching jars.

Then other groups have a member with design and carpentry skills who builds a frame for plastic tubes that’s used year after year.

The categories on the War Resisters League pie chart serve as labels for the jars or tubes for some groups; others like to add more specific categories and make an even split with 10 categories and 10 pennies representing one tax dollar.

The photos may give you more ideas on how to construct your very own Penny Poll. See also Talking Taxes and Taking Action Against Military Spending, which links to the blog for New York City’s Granny Peace Brigade and their “Ms.Gizmo” penny poll stories.

Ithaca literature table

Ithaca, New York

People were given ten pennies to distribute in the way they would like to see their tax dollars spent. 58 people participated in the poll that lasted from 12–2pm (in addition to passing out literature). The following are the results of what people, who took the poll, would spend their money on:

pie chart shock

1) Health Care—22.8%, 2) Education—16.9%, 3) Environment—12.3%, 4) Mass Transit—9.8%, 5) Income Assistance—9.5%, 6) Arts—9.0%, 7) Housing—9.0%, 8) Foreign Aid (non military)—5.5%, 9) National Debt—2.8%, 10) Military—2.4%

Expect shock when passers by see how their tax dollars are being spent by the government. Photo by Mary Loehr

Princeton, New Jersey

Princeton penny poll in action The Coalition for Peace Action conducted their annual penny poll in front form the Princeton post office from noon to 1:30. Each of 107 participants were given 10 pennies to distribute in 5 categories. The results were:
Education 30%, Health Care 24%, Environment 21%, Housing 18%, Military 6%

Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Portsmouth penny poll Members of New Hampshire War Tax Resistance conducted an informal poll in front of the Portsmouth post office on tax day. Participants were given 20 pennies to drop in any of ten glass jars, each representing a part of the Federal budget. After 8 hours the results of the penny poll demonstrated the inverse of how our tax dollars are actually spent.

The results are as follows: Education = 315 pennies (24%), Environment = 236 pennies (18%), Alternative Energy = 216 pennies (16%), Health care = 153 (12%), Social Services = 122 (9%), Veterans Benefits = 68 (5%), Agriculture = 60 (5%), Science & Technology = 57 (4%), Military = 54 (4%), Homeland Security =41 (3%)

Photos from Other Cities

budget breakdown
Louisville, Kentucky

Eugene penny ypoll
Eugene, Oregon

Tucson penny poll
Tucson, Arizona

Waukesha penny poll
Waukesha, Wisconsin


More Readings on Money

Readings on Money (first page) with “War Tax Resisters Talk About Money”

The Influence of Money on Decisions to Engage in War Tax ResistanceKaren Marysdaughter

Inheritance and Social ResponsibilityGeorge Salzman

What’s Your Interest”: “On Interest” Juanita Nelson; “Interest and Economic Transformation” Bob Irwin; “Rejoinder” Juanita Nelson

War, the National Debt, Taxes, and the Creation of MoneyJay Sordean

Nonprofits and Tax Exempt Status: “All Saints vs. the State” Matt Vogel; “Your Gifts Are Not Tax-Deductible” Shelley Douglass; “War Tax Resistance and Tax Exempt Status” Excerpt from NWTRCC’s Practical War Tax Resistance #6