The Internal Revenue Service building in Washington. (Susan Walsh/AP)
Opinion writer

Republican candidates running this year want to talk all about taxes. What about the voters? Not so much. The New York Times reports:

For two months after the bill passed, it appeared that Republicans, buoyed by a surge of corporate employee bonus announcements linked to the new law, were right to press their case. The law’s poll numbers improved from dismal levels before its passage. But as those bonus announcements died down — and the conversation around the law died, too — public support waned again. Interviews with voters in swing states suggest that the law may not have much power to move them to support Republicans this fall, and the party abandoned tax-themed ads in a special House election in Pennsylvania last month.

Polling suggests that Republicans might do better talking about something else. The latest Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll shows that “27% of respondents thought the [tax]  law was a good idea, while 36% thought it was a bad idea. Opinion split largely along party lines, but even among Republicans support was far from unanimous: 56% of Republicans thought the law was a good idea.” Among independents, 26 percent approve of the law, 26 percent do not and 46 percent have no opinion.

A number of factors may account for the lackluster numbers.

To begin with, taxes were never the voters’ highest priority; health care was. Republicans were listening to donors and their own ideological echo chamber when they decided that taxes would be their focus after efforts to repeal Obamacare failed. The Republican Party for decades has put nearly all of its economic focus on tax cuts. Average Americans, however, care about health care, immigration, the environment, guns, etc. In the same Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll, voters give Democrats the lead on those issues, plus on handling Russia, sexual harassment and even “changing how things work in Washington.”

In addition, more than 60 percent of Americans pay more in payroll taxes than in federal income taxes; the latter might not alter their economic well-being all that much. Pew Research found in October 2017: “Taxpayers with incomes below $30,000 filed nearly 44% of all returns but paid just 1.4% of all federal income tax — in fact, two-thirds of the nearly 66 million returns filed by people in that lowest income tier owed no tax at all.” President Trump and his GOP allies kept insisting that this was a big middle-class tax cut, but that is not where the bulk of the savings will go when you start cutting corporate rates and the top marginal tax rates.

Furthermore, coverage of the debt and deficit has been widespread, along with news about stock buybacks. This comes at a time that job growth is slowing down somewhat. (CNBC notes that “on Trump’s watch the pace of U.S. job growth slowed since he was elected in November 2016.” The economy created 2.8 million jobs in 2015 and 2.5 million jobs in 2016. Last year, the economy created 2.1 million jobs. In other words, Americans are right; The tax cut hasn’t done much good for them or changed their lives.

This should be a reminder that Republicans who are certain that Americans care mostly about tax cuts and regulation are probably spending too much time talking to business lobbyists, right-wing media and conservative activists. Republicans haven’t shown much interest in or facility in addressing other issues. It may also be a sign that the more Trump talks about the tax law and the more he takes ownership of it, the less approval it will get. Just as Republicans dubbed the Affordable Care Act as “Obamacare” when President Barack Obama’s political fortunes weren’t terrific, expect Democrats to call the tax law “Trump taxes.” Tying an unpopular president to unpopular legislation is a tried-and-true way of winning elections. Just ask Republicans who picked up House and Senate seats in 2014 and 2010.

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