For a brief period in late January, it looked like the Trump tax cuts were working as promised (politically speaking): One month after the president claimed his first major legislative victory, the Democrats polling advantage in the generic ballot was collapsing — while support for the GOP tax law steadily climbed.
In December 2017, just 26 percent of voters told Monmouth University that they approved of the Republican tax bill; one month later, that figure was 44 percent. Quinnipiac’s findings were similar: In mid-December, 26 percent of its respondents approved of the legislation, by early February, 39 percent did. The bill’s absolute level of support varied across other polls, but virtually all testified to the same trend. Meanwhile, it looked like the Democrats’ big blue wave was sliding back out to sea: In late December, FiveThirtyEight’s poll of polls had the public favoring a Democratic Congress over a Republican one by 13 points; by early February, that advantage was down to just 6 — a margin that would likely be too small for the party to overcome Republican gerrymandering and reclaim the House.
There was always reason to suspect the GOP’s gains would prove transient, and that the 2018 race would revert back to its long-run mean. But Republicans had a coherent argument for why the new trend would prove durable: As more Americans realized that the tax law had fattened their paychecks — and came to associate the strength of the broader economy with the Republican bill — their hearts would soften to the party in power.
But then a funny thing happened: In February, the Trump tax cuts took effect, a large majority of Americans saw their take-home pay increase — and Democrats reassumed a nearly double-digit lead in the generic ballot, the president’s approval rating tumbled, and, according to two new polls, support for the tax law fell.
Since late January, approval of the tax law in Monmouth University’s survey fell by three points to 41 percent – while the Democrats’ lead in the 2018 race swelled by seven, from a mere 2 percent to 9. Meanwhile, Quinnipiac’s latest poll has support for the tax law declining three points to 36 percent, and opposition rising three points to 50 percent.
Now, declines of this size — in just two polls — aren’t conclusive evidence that support for the tax bill is waning. But these results, combined with the Democrats’ polling resurgence in recent weeks, do strongly suggest that the Trump tax cuts aren’t generating a sea change in American public opinion. The legislation is no longer historically unpopular. But it isn’t popular, either. And there’s little evidence that’s going to become so.
It’s true that the law should provide at least a modest tax cut to 80 percent of American households — and that only a small minority of Americans seem to be aware that their taxes just went down. But multiple post-tax-cut paychecks have already been mailed. And the percentage of Americans who believe their taxes have gone down remains resolutely low: In Monmouth’s poll, just 24 percent of voters say they expect their federal taxes to go down, while 37 percent expect them to go up. Other polls have put that first figure higher, but virtually all have put it below 40 percent.
Republicans could blame the public for its ignorance on this front. Or, they could also blame themselves for giving massive tax breaks to the wealthy, and “so small they could be erased by your rising health-insurance premiums” tax breaks to working people. As the New York Times notes in its latest dispatch from Trump country, even voters who have noticed their tax break aren’t terribly impressed with it:
At Slyder’s Tavern, Matt Kazee, a machinist, drank a couple of beers as he waited for burgers to take home for dinner. His tab was about equal to the increase in his take-home pay after President Trump’s tax cut found its way into the nation’s paychecks.
“I have seen a little uptick in my paycheck, about what I expected, about 30 bucks,” said Mr. Kazee, who voted twice for President Barack Obama before backing Mr. Trump in the 2016 election. “It felt to me about like where things were 15 years ago.”
His underwhelmed reaction was not what Republicans had in mind…Other workers described their increase as enough for a week’s worth of gas or a couple of gallons of milk, with an additional $40 in a paycheck every two weeks on the high side to $2 a week on the low. Few are complaining, but the working class here is not feeling flush with newfound wealth.
And some are convinced that what the tax cut has given them upfront will ultimately fade.
“He’s pulling out jazz hands and shiny stuff up front and will screw us on the back end,” said Brian Barkalow, a worker at Requarth Lumber, where the Wright Brothers once bought wood for their planes.
The GOP may still keep its House majority this fall. But if Paul Ryan keeps his gavel, it will be because of gerrymandering — not widespread gratitude at what he did with his power.