GOP's tax law will bring them down in the midterms

GOP's tax law will bring them down in the midterms
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As Election Day nears, Republicans are too busy scrambling with the midterms to focus on immigration and defend themselves on health care, which they thought would be their ace in the hole. There is also the $1.5 trillion tax bill, which turned out to be a losing hand. 

But a new report explains that public opinion has been shifting away from the Republican views of taxes for years, culminating in the continued unpopularity of the new tax law.

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As the new report from Navigator Research, which I co-authored, reveals public opinion has moved far from the days when Republicans could effectively campaign on cutting taxes and painting Democrats as tax and spenders. Now, when people think about the tax system, they are more likely to imagine fat-cats and CEOs. 

Looking at a wealth of public opinion research conducted over the last few years, it becomes clear that the public is much more concerned about the way our tax laws benefit the wealthy and large corporations over working and middle class families.

For example, around 60 percent of the public believes that working families and the middle class pay more than their fair share of taxes, while only around 12 percent say the same for the wealthy and corporations, the main beneficiaries of the GOP tax bill.

Before the law passed, huge majorities including majorities of Republicans, believed that there are too many loopholes for the wealthy and big corporations, and that the tax code favored the wealthy over average Americans.

With The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Republicans planned to sell the 2017 law as cutting your taxes and boosting the economy. They argued that the law would raise wages and create jobs. But they had already lost the public, which no longer believed in their trickle-down argument.

For example, fewer than three-in-ten Americans (28 percent) believed that “lowering taxes on the highest-earning Americans will help grow the economy.” By contrast, 88 percent believed that “making sure the wealthiest pay their fair share will grow the economy.”

While the public rejects trickle-down from the wealthy, people have been divided (50 to 49 percent) on whether lowering taxes on corporations will grow the economy. However, in a debate on opposing views of corporate tax policy, the Republican argument loses by a big margin among all voters and barely prevails among Republicans. We see that 65 percent of the public agreed that corporations should pay more taxes because they don’t pay their fair share, compared with 35 percent who agreed that corporations should pay lower taxes to create good jobs for American workers. Among Republicans, the cutting tax argument squeaked by 53 percent to 47 percent, a long way from overwhelming support for Republican orthodoxy.

So if Republicans had been paying attention to public opinion, including among their own voters, it would have come as no surprise that the tax law has been a political dud. Three-quarters (72 percent) of Americans believe (correctly) that the “vast majority of the law’s tax cuts will go to the wealthy and corporations,” and that includes half (50 percent) of Republicans and 74 percent of independents. 

The public also has major doubts about the GOP economic argument for the tax law. Even after the cascade of news early in 2018 about corporations handing out bonuses, 58 percent of the public thought that CEOs and wealthy shareholders were benefiting from the law more than the 42 percent who thought the law gave four million workers bonuses, wage hikes or other employee benefits.

What do Americans think will boost the economy? The answer is taxing and spending. Americans strongly support raising taxes on the wealthy and big corporations. And spending the trillions that went to tax cuts instead on infrastructure, public education and holding down health care costs was the argument that most moved supporters of the law into opposition.

The shift in public opinion on taxes is part of a larger shift in how Americans view government. As Topos Partnership found in a major study of American perceptions of government, “Not long ago, many Americans’ central concern was whether government had gotten ‘too big’. Now, that question seems less relevant as people focus more on the question of whom government serves. Most Americans believe government actions benefit politicians, the wealthy, large corporations, and to a lesser extent, special interest groups.”

When it comes to the tax debate, Democrats too have a challenge and an opportunity. They need to go beyond decrying the GOP tax cuts as favoring the super-rich and CEOs and tell a story about how the tax system can benefit average Americans. Rather than cower from being called “tax and spenders” they should embrace taxing the wealthy and big corporations and spending those dollars on making the lives of their constituents better today and in the future.

Richard Kirsch is the director of Our Story- The Hub for American Narratives, which works to bolster the capacity of progressive’s organizations and leaders to powerfully communicate core American values. Kirsch was a senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, the National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now and the executive director of state-based policy organizations. He is the author of “Fighting for Our Health — the Epic Battle to Make Health Care a Right in the United States.” He has an MBA from the University of Chicago.