Romney’s and Obama’s tax plans, in one (new and improved) chart

July 19, 2012

Back in March, Brad and I wrote a post entitled "Romney’s and Obama’s tax plans, in one chart." Here's the chart:

Naomi Robbins, who specializes in good graphs, says there's a problem with that chart. "What bothers me is that over half (5 of 9 data points) of the horizontal axis provides data on twenty percent of the population. This gives the visual impression that Obama is raising taxes on people other than the top few percent and that Romney’s tax cuts also affect more people than is the case."

She's right. And Robbins did more than carp about our graph. She made a better one:

Naomi Robbins/Forbes

What you're seeing there is the same data as on the first chart, but with "equally spaced intervals on the horizontal axis represent[ing] equal percentages of taxpayers." The result is that the two candidate's tax plans come through much more clearly. Romney's plan is a large tax cut for the top 60 percent, a huge tax cut for the top few percent, and a significant  tax increase for the bottom few percent, as he permits a few temporary tax breaks that benefit low-income folks to expire. Obama's plan keeps the current tax rates for almost everyone but the top few percent, who face a very large tax increase.

It's also worth noting that these numbers only tell half the story: Romney has promised to offset the cost of most of his tax plan through spending cuts and tax reforms, and so any analysis of who pays is incomplete without those policies. But that information is impossible to graph, as Romney hasn't released it yet. All we can say is that since Romney has promised to increase spending on defense and honor Medicare and Social Security's scheduled benefits for the next decade, it's hard to see how he makes good on that promise without cutting deep into programs for the poor and tax preferences that benefit the middle class, and if that's right, then the poor and middle class are paying much more than you can tell from the graph above.

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Brad Plumer · July 19, 2012