Congressional Republicans are poised to pass the biggest tax overhaul in a generation, but Americans remain unconvinced that the measure will cut their own taxes or significantly boost the economy.
A new USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll finds just 32% support the GOP tax plan; 48% oppose it. That’s the lowest level of public support for any major piece of legislation enacted in the past three decades.
Americans are skeptical of the fundamental arguments Republicans have made in selling the bill: A 53% majority of those surveyed predict their own families won’t pay lower taxes as a result of the measure, and an equal 53% say it won’t help the economy in a major way.
A conference committee is now trying to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the bill, and congressional leaders are optimistic that a final version will be on President Trump’s desk by Christmas.
“It’s fairly favorable to the highest earners and to corporations,” says Thomas Beline, 36, a lawyer in Washington, D.C., who was among those surveyed. “I have a dim view of the ability of corporations to take that money and hire people or invest in R & D [research and development]. What I think is likely to happen is you’re going to see higher dividends paid out to shareholders, who already are some of the wealthiest people in the country.”
The findings underscore the risk for Republicans even as they move toward achieving one of the party’s top policy priorities and delivering the first major legislative achievement of the Trump administration. Christopher Warshaw, a political scientist at The George Washington University, cautions that passage of the bill will make it more likely Democrats win control of the House in next year’s midterm elections, akin to the electoral price Democrats paid in the 2010 midterms for passing Obamacare.
“In recent decades, Congress has never passed a major bill this unpopular,” Warshaw says. “I think that passing this bill will substantially hurt the GOP brand — particularly among moderate, well-educated suburban voters and among the working-class white voters that switched over to support Trump in 2016. I think this will cost Republican members of Congress votes in the midterms and it may hurt Trump in 2020. It makes it very hard for Trump or the GOP to claim that they have a populist agenda.”
One reason the GOP is moving ahead is that Republican voters are enthusiastic. In the survey, they backed the tax bill by an overwhelming 71%-12%. Two-thirds of Republicans predict their own taxes will be cut, and nearly three-fourths say the bill will significantly boost the nation’s economy.
The USA TODAY poll of 1,000 registered voters, taken Tuesday through Saturday, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
“I work for a small business … and the owner has talked about the things he could do if we enact this tax bill,” says Chad Dunlap, 42, of Wapakoneta, Ohio, who was called in the poll. Dunlap, the business-development manager for a roofing company, was elected last month to the Wapakoneta City Council. “He could invest and have better equipment for our people, better income for our crews.”
Haven Gillispie, 37, a sales representative from Jamestown, N.Y., hears conflicting reports on the impact of the bill. “I don’t know exactly what’s in it,” she said in a follow-up phone interview. “But Trump is promising it’s going to help working families, so I’m relying on that.”
Overall, only 35% believe that the bill will boost the economy, and 31% that their own families’ tax bills will be lowered as a result. Nearly two-thirds, 64%, say the wealthy will get the most benefits; just 17% say the middle-class will.
Negotiations between the House and Senate continued through the weekend. Both versions of the bill would cut taxes by about $1.5 trillion over the next decade, slashing the corporate tax rate and doubling the standard deduction used by most Americans. But there are some significant differences, and Republicans are divided over whether and how to ameliorate the impact on residents of such high-tax states as New York, New Jersey and California.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation concluded in separate studies that the Republican proposals would help wealthier Americans the most. Almost all households making less than $10,000 a year would see minimal change; almost all households making between $500,000 and $1 million a year would get a tax cut of at least $500.
“Getting closer and closer on the Tax Cut Bill,” Trump said in a tweet posted Sunday morning. “Shaping up even better than projected. House and Senate working very hard and smart. End result will be not only important, but SPECIAL!”
In the USA TODAY/Suffolk Poll, Americans are feeling a little better about the economy: 56% say the United States is in a recovery, a bit higher than earlier in the year. On the other hand, by 56%-32%, they say the country is on the wrong track, not headed in the right direction. (That’s better than the 64% who said the nation was moving in the wrong direction in October, but worse than the 43% who felt that way near the beginning of the year, in March.)
Views of the GOP and its leaders have soured significantly since Republicans took unified control of the federal government — the White House, House and Senate — this year.
- Trump now has a favorable-unfavorable rating of 34%-58%, a net negative of 24 percentage points. His standing has worsened through the year, from a net negative of just 2 points in March and 15 points in June.
- Vice President Mike Pence is viewed favorably by 33%-45%, a net negative of 12 points. He was viewed favorably by a net positive 12 points near the beginning of the year.
- The Republican Party has a dismal favorable rating of 24%-61%, a net negative of 37 points, compared with a net negative of 11 points in the first poll of the year.
- Congress has the worst rating of all, viewed favorably by 17% and unfavorably by 64%. That is a net negative rating of 47 points, compared to a negative 26 points at the beginning of the year.
Favorable ratings have improved for two groups this year. The Democratic Party now is viewed favorably by 36%, unfavorably by 47%. That’s not exactly a rosy assessment, but it’s much better — or at least much less worse — than the Republican Party. The Democrats’ net negative of 11 points is a modest improvement from March, when the party stood at a negative 16 points.
And views of the news media, while still negative, also have improved a tick. Near the beginning of the year, the favorable-unfavorable rating was 37%-50%. Now it is 38%-46%.