CIRULI: Will the tax plan sell itself? Republicans had better hope so

Author: Floyd Ciruli - January 17, 2018 - Updated: January 17, 2018

Floyd Ciruli

Just as President Trump was hoping to leave for his holiday in Palm Beach, cable commentators were questioning why he hadn’t yet signed the tax bill. Trump, ever sensitive to his TV image, staged a quick signing ceremony on December 20 before wheels up. When asked if he will spend time promoting the plan, Trump said: “I don’t think I’m going to have to travel too much to sell it. I think it’s selling itself.”

Although there is some basis for the President’s optimism, the plan starts in a deep public opinion trench and will need to make up a lot ground. The fate of the tax plan’s popularity will be a key factor in the 2018 midterm outcome.

In 2010, President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid were also optimistic that Obamacare, which passed with no Republican votes and less than a majority of public support, would become more popular upon implementation. Not only was implementation flawed, but the law was labeled early on a new Democratic entitlement program. Its unpopularity contributed to the 63-seat loss the Democrats suffered in the 2010 midterm.

Not until Obama was at the end of his term and the law endangered did its popularity receive approval above 50 percent. Republicans need approval of their new tax reform law by a majority of voters before election time in the fall.

Trump’s challenges are similar to Obama’s when it comes to legacy issues. Like Obama, Trump is governing in a partisan moment and is a highly polarizing figure. While Obamacare favored the poor and tax reform favors the rich, both passed without bipartisan support and started in negative opinion territory.

President Donald Trump celebrates passage of the Tax Cuts Act with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, left, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Vice President Mike Pence last month. (Official White House Photo/Flickr)

Trump’s personal wealth and his Mar-a-Lago lifestyle reaffirm that the rich are the primary beneficiaries. Most voters consider big corporations unworthy of receiving government favors. Also, tax cuts are a much lower priority in the public’s mind than the economy, health care, government dysfunction and terrorism (even among Trump’s base).

In spite of Trump’s mention of the tax cuts regularly while promoting his accomplishments, they are unlikely to “sell themselves.” However, they give the Republicans something to point to as a first-year accomplishment that reflects the significance of having control of both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. Also, tax cuts are generally popular, and if Republicans are right and they produce an increase in 2018 take-home pay, it may well give Trump and the Republicans talking points for the fall. Of course, if the economy and market continue to improve, tax cuts will benefit by association.

But tax reform starts in January 2018 with very weak numbers.

  • An average of 9 surveys in December on tax reform – 33 percent support, 52 percent oppose; least popular tax cut bill since Reagan’s in 1981, which had 25 percent support (FiveThirtyEight, 2017).
  • 63 percent say it was designed to help the wealthy and corporations (NBC/WSJ, Dec. 2017).
  • Support fell as the voting grew closer: Oct. 2017 – 25 percent, Dec. 2017 – 24 percent.
  • Only 28 percent of rural Americans and 25 percent of whites with no college degree say it was a “good idea.”
  • Polarized voters: 53 percent of Republicans say “good idea;” 67 percent of Democrats “bad idea.”
  • Gallup, it’s still unpopular, Jan. 7 – 55 percent disapprove.

Even if tax reform turns positive, it may not be enough to stop the hemorrhaging of support for the party and its congressional wing caused by nonstop chaos and controversy that appears to envelope the White House.

Floyd Ciruli

Floyd Ciruli

Floyd Ciruli is a veteran pollster and noted political analyst based in Denver. He is the director of the Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Denver's Josef Korbel School of International Studies and is an adjunct professor teaching public opinion and foreign policy. Read Ciruli's blog at www.fciruli.blogspot.com