President Trump’s presentation of his success as president is often predicated on the tax cuts he signed into law last December. He frequently mentions the tax cuts in his tweeted endorsements of Republican candidates, an indication that he sees the subject as politically helpful.
Internal Republican Party polling obtained by Bloomberg last week disagrees. Most respondents, including majorities of independents and Democrats, think the tax bill mostly benefits wealthier Americans. That view may be widely held in part because it’s generally accurate.
But a Fox News poll released on Sunday adds another level of complexity to that question.
Among the questions Fox asked was one that generally turned out the way one might expect. Respondents were asked whether they thought the tax bill had helped or hurt the economy; most Americans said it had not made much difference.
Those results differed by party. Most Democrats said it had no effect or that the bill had hurt the economy. Most Republicans said it had helped.
Reinforcing that internal Republican poll, wealthier Americans, those earning $50,000 or more a year, were more likely to say the tax bill helped. Poorer Americans were more likely to say they saw little effect.
There is partisan overlap here: Wealthier Americans tend to vote more heavily Republican.
Then something interesting happens. Education often correlates to income, given that those with college degrees generally earn more money. But more whites with college degrees said the bill had hurt the economy (28 percent) than whites without college degrees (18 percent). In other words, that link between education and income seems to stutter a bit on this question.
Whites without college degrees, of course, were Trump’s base of support in the 2016 election.
Then Fox News asked an even more interesting question.
We noted in March, shortly after provisions of the tax bill went into effect, that most Americans had not seen a benefit in their paychecks. One would expect this would not be subject to partisanship, given that the reduction in taxes happened across the board. But there were big differences by party in that survey.
Just as there was in Fox News’s poll. About 1 in 5 Democrats and independents reported they or their family had seen more money in their paychecks. More than half of Republicans, though, said they had.
That is a massive difference. But, again, it likely overlaps with income. When we introduce income levels to the chart, we see this is the case, to some extent.
Wealthier Americans did see larger reductions in the taxes taken out of their pay. Post analysis (explained below) indicates a single person paid $20,000 in biweekly installments would have saved about $16 per paycheck after the tax law passed. Someone earning four times as much would have saved about $94. In addition to being more money, that $94 is also a larger percentage of the person’s biweekly paycheck.
Interestingly, there is basically no difference by education in this question.
Why not? It is hard to say, but part of it may be that whites without college degrees are more likely to have noticed a tax reduction than other poorer Americans.
There is, of course, the question of how accurately this reflects reality. If, for example, you are a fervent opponent of Trump who has just been asked to weigh in on how the tax cuts affected the economy, you might be tempted to reinforce your viewpoint by downplaying the effect it had on you personally. If you are a fan of Trump, the opposite might be true. That independents generally indicate they did not see any change (as was the case in that March poll) suggests Trump supporters overreporting the change they saw might be the more common scenario.
It also highlights an interesting complication for that Republican Party poll. Even the objective reality of the number in your paycheck each week is viewed through a partisan lens. And if that spurs Trump fans to overstate positive effects or Trump opponents to understate them, it becomes much harder to determine whether the decisions you have made are ones the country actually supports.
How we calculated tax savings: Using 2017 and 2018 schedules, we looked at tax rates for individuals paid biweekly, ignoring any possible withholding allowances. For someone earning $20,000 a year, we calculated $84 paid in 2017 and $68 paid in 2018. For someone earning $80,000, the figures were $583 and $489.
correction: The nature of the tax cuts, originally presented as payroll tax cuts, was corrected.