The Real GOP Tax Bill Is Not Unpopular: An Imaginary Tax Hike Is

The U.S. Capitol stands at sunrise in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017. Senate Republicans are looking to approve their tax-overhaul legislation as soon as Thursday night -- but wrangling continues over whether to include a trigger for tax increases if economic growth doesn't meet revenue targets. Photographer: …
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The public’s perception of the Republican tax overhaul has moved even further away from reality, with more people falsely thinking the bill will raise their taxes even as the bill has narrowed the already small share of Americans whose taxes will rise.

Only 24 percent of Americans approve of the Republican tax bill, according to a new WSJ/NBC News poll.  Forty-one percent think it is a bad idea, up from 35 percent in October.

Yet this growing opposition is rooted in false beliefs about the bill. The liberal-leaning Tax Policy Center estimates that just 5 percent of households will see a tax hike under the Republican bill, lower than earlier estimates for the House and Senate bill. Yet 32 percent of the public believes their taxes are rising, according to the WSJ/NBC poll.

Similarly, around 70 percent of Americans will see their taxes fall, while only 17 percent tell the WSJ/NBC pollsters that they expect this outcome.

In other words, Americans are not really opposed to the Republican tax bill. They are opposed to an imaginary bill that hikes taxes on many people and lowers taxes for a very small segment of American households. That is just about the photographic negative of the actual tax bill.

Why is the public’s perception so divorced from reality? One answer may be distrust of Republican politicians. “People said by a 33%-to-29% margin that they believe that Democrats would do a better job than Republicans with taxes,” the Wall Street Journal reports. That’s a big shift from the past, when Americans typically said they trust Republicans more on taxes. The GOP brand is clearly hurting.

Some culpability likely rests with journalists and politically motivated opponents of tax cuts who have spread falsehoods about the tax bill.

“It does not help individuals who are below $100,000,” reporter Ron Insana said on an MSNBC Tuesday. “In fact, it probably doesn’t help individuals who are below $200,000, given the analysis we’ve seen thus far. It is not a middle-class tax cut.”

Those falsehoods went unchallenged by the MSNBC anchor.

When the Associated Press reported the House passage of the bill, it tweeted: “House passes first rewrite of nation’s tax laws in three decades, providing steep tax cuts for businesses, the wealthy.”

“This is a clear sign of the failure of the media to accurately cover the bill, and it also explains the bill’s deep unpopularity,” Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner explained in a column Wednesday.

Tim is my brother. But it is not just the Carney brothers who have picked up on the gap between perceptions of the tax bill and the reality. The Wall Street Journal’s Richard Rubin discussed it on Twitter Tuesday night.

There may be a silver lining for Republicans. The large part of the public that expects tax hikes or no cut will be pleasantly surprised when tax bills fall and paychecks rise due to lower withholding. That could help put a new shine on the obviously tarnished Republican brand.

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