"This is going to be one of the great gifts to the middle-income people of this country that they've ever gotten for Christmas," Trump said in December 2017, just before the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was passed. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Columnist

Tax Day is now over, and many Americans say they didn’t notice the “tremendous” tax break President Trump promised.

"This is going to be one of the great gifts to the middle-income people of this country that they've ever gotten for Christmas," Trump said in December 2017, just before the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was passed.

But Trump's habit of hyperbole hasn't worked well in selling the tax cuts to the American people.

A new poll -- released by Gallup just before the April 15 tax deadline -- shows that more people disapprove than approve of the GOP-backed bill, which ushered in such major changes to the tax code as a doubling of the standard deduction. It also took away a lot of fan-favorite deductions, such as personal exemptions.

Gallup found that 49 percent of Americans dislike the overhaul, compared with 40 percent who approve.

"My income decreased by 30 percent during the last six months of 2018," one reader wrote. "The value of my taxable assets also decreased in the last part of 2018. In 2017, we owed approximately $130. We have been 'itemizers' for years. For 2018, we took the standard deduction, and we owe $1,180. So yeah, the tax changes that took effect in 2018 negatively impacted my family."

Gallup has been measuring attitudes about the tax bill since before its passage. And disapproval has always trumped the legislation's approval rating. Approval has been as low as 29 percent.

"Americans seem to have made up their minds about the law one year ago," Gallup said in releasing its latest poll data. "If the law is lowering their taxes, Americans aren't feeling it."

Not surprisingly, people's political affiliation impacted the results. Only 16 percent of Democrats approve of the law, compared with 78 percent of Republicans. The approval rating for Independents is 32 percent.

The problem isn't that many taxpayers didn't get a tax cut. It's that it was spread out in their paychecks over the year -- in amounts apparently not significant enough for them to notice.

The Tax Policy Center estimates that middle-income taxpayers -- defined as earning between $49,000 and $86,000 -- saw an average tax cut of about $800.

"When people get their paychecks, other things are going on besides taxes," said Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center. "They may have had higher health insurance premiums that easily wiped out all or some of the tax cut."

Gallup asked: Have the new tax laws caused your federal income taxes to go up, go down, stay the same or are you unsure?

Forty-three percent of respondents said they either were unsure of the impact of the tax changes or had no answer. Just 14 percent said their taxes went down, and 21 percent said their tax bill increased.

“I’m happy about the tax changes,” wrote Jan R. from Vienna, Virginia, when I asked readers how they felt about the GOP tax bill. “I did my taxes both ways -- itemized deductions and standard deduction. Got about the same refund as last year when using itemized deductions and almost $900 more using the new standard deduction. I did change my withholding last year to adjust for the new tax law, so I wasn’t surprised this year.”

Andrea Fabian of Fairfax Station, Va., was certain the changes wouldn’t help.

"I re-calculated the 2018 numbers using the 2017 system," Fabian said. "We paid $554 more tax in 2018 than we would have if nothing had changed. Also, this is after I accelerated all of our 2019 charitable giving into 2018. If I hadn't done that, it would have been a few thousand more."

Another reader -- T.M. Kiesel from Newcastle, Wyo. -- wrote: “I am retired, basically on a stable fixed income, and having lost the personal exemption and some deductions, my taxes are up nearly 12 percent from the last several years. It doesn’t sound like much, but it does hurt, and it’s hard to make up!”

Many people ended up in a better financial position by taking the higher federal standard deduction. However, this decision came with an unpleasant surprise about their state tax situation.

“What surprised me most about my taxes this year was the 831 percent increase in my Maryland state income taxes,” wrote Len Amerise from Middletown, Md. “Because I took the standard deduction on the federal return, I also had to take the standard deduction on the Maryland return.”

For many, tax season 2019 was a bust, and the Christmas gift they were promised seemed more like a lump of coal in their stocking.