Democrats and the GOP Tax Bill: It’s Not Good

Stefan Hankin
Mar 6, 2018 · 5 min read
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“A one dollar bill leaning against the wall on a glossy surface” by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Now that the Trump Administration and Congressional Republicans have finally passed their tax bill, they have been working to sell it as the ideal package for the middle class. While some of their messaging strategies have been more successful than others (what more could voters want than a free Costco membership), they are continuing to beat Democrats in the messaging war. Democrats losing the messaging war is not exactly news, and members of the leadership referring to $1,000 bonuses as “crumbs” or “chump change” is certainly not helping.

As we wrote in October, there was not a broad consensus among the American public about what should be in the tax bill, with the exception of middle-class tax cuts. What may have been a surprise to many, and one of the main reasons why Democrats are not winning the messaging war, is the fact that most Americans view lowering taxes on corporations and the extremely wealthy as beneficial to themselves. Therefore, as long as Republicans include the semblance of middle class tax cuts, they could put whatever else they wanted in the bill and still have a chance of not providing Democrats a silver bullet in November. Democrats, on the other hand, were facing the challenge of better educating the public why this tax bill is bad policy. While it doesn’t help that more Americans think corporate tax cuts will help them more than hurt them in the first place, Democrats are not making the gains they need to successfully run against the Republicans’ major accomplishment in November.

Indeed, our recent national survey[1] showed that a plurality of Americans supports the Republicans’ tax cut bill while just one-third oppose it. Additionally, one quarter strongly support the bill, while just 18% strongly oppose it, and 22% are not sure. Since our October survey, Democrats have not been able to take the steps needed to bring more voters to their viewpoint on this bill. Not only have Democrats been unable to bring more people to their side, but they’re losing some of their own supporters. Over one quarter of self-identified Democrats support the tax bill while 22% are not sure. Barely having a majority of your own voters opposing one of your key 2018 attack lines does not bode well for November.

Interestingly, when we look at the ideological makeup of those who identify as Democrats, voters who consider themselves to be more liberal than the party are more likely to support the bill (32% support the bill) than those who consider themselves to be aligned with the party (27% support the bill). If you are a Democrat and want to be even more depressed, this issue is not going to win back Obama-Trump voters as two-thirds of these voters support the bill while just 9% oppose it. Despite Democrats’ efforts to position this bill as solely a tax cut to the rich, the American public isn’t buying it.

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While Americans are largely supportive of the tax cuts bill, they are split on whether it will have a big impact on them personally. Indeed, 42% of Americans believe that the tax cuts will have an impact on them while 41% do not think that they will have an impact, and 17% are unsure. Interestingly, support for the bill does not necessarily mean that they think it will have an impact on them personally, and vice versa.

Overall, 20% of Americans support the tax bill even though they don’t think it will have an impact on them personally or are not counting on it. At the same time, over a quarter of Americans support the tax bill and believe that it will impact them personally. While our data does not definitively show that this second group of Americans will switch their support if they don’t end up seeing an impact, they in theory are the most likely to. The first group (those who support but don’t think they will see positive effects) are arguably much more likely to stick with their position since their support since it is not conditional on any potential benefit.

Another tough sell for Democrats are the 7% of Americans who are not sure how they feel about the bill but are not expecting to see an impact since they are more likely to move in a positive direction if they end up perceiving a personal benefit.

Even worse for Democrats is that just 2% are expecting to see an impact but are still not sold on the bill. Additionally, it is possible that Democrats could lose the support of the 16% who oppose the bill and are not expecting it to impact them if they do end up perceiving a personal positive impact.

On the positive side, 15% of Americans are likely to be firmly against the bill since they oppose it and are not sure that it will impact them or think that it will, but that doesn’t affect their opposition to it. Clearly, this isn’t a winning issue for Democrats since the quarter of Americans they need to convince have likely already received their first paycheck with reduced taxes and still support the bill; the last time we checked, 15% is not a winning proposition.

In further depressing news, current Democratic messaging on the tax bill is unlikely to bring back Obama-Trump voters as a quarter are supportive of the bill even though they are not expecting to see an impact, while 40% support the bill and are expecting it to impact them. Therefore, telling them that they are not benefiting from it after they’ve seen an impact is likely not going to go over well to say the least. Given their strong support for the bill and that many are fully expecting a positive impact, and likely are through larger take home pay, it’s likely Democrats need to rethink any campaign strategies that revolve around winning these voters back.

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Since the passage of the Republicans’ tax bill, and even before it, Democrats have been losing the messaging war. Now that many Americans are seeing the results in their paystubs, it’s even harder for Democrats to make this a winning issue. Voters are seeing the bill’s positive impact and are not likely to oppose it because we tell them they’re not benefiting, and many voters who aren’t seeing the impact still support the bill. If Democrats want to continue using this bill as a major issue for November, we need a new messaging strategy.

[1] 1,000 interviews among adults were conducted from February 14–19, 2018 and were weighted to ensure proportional results. The Bayesian confidence interval for 1,000 interviews is 3.5, which is roughly equivalent to a margin of error of ±3.1 at the 95% confidence level.

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