Voters Divided on Tax Fairness Ahead of 2020 Race

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting on tax policy in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Oct. 31, 2017. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

(CN) – With the April 15 tax deadline fast approaching, a new survey shows overall public perceptions of the 2017 tax code overhaul have changed little in the last year, but the partisan divide over tax fairness generally has grown to the widest level in two decades as the 2020 campaign heats up.

In a survey of 1,503 adults from March 20-25, Pew Research Center found that 49% of overall respondents at least partially disapproved of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which was only a 3-point increase from the previous survey in January 2018.

Slightly fewer Republican respondents approved of the law (75% this year versus 71% last year), and slightly more Democratic respondents disapproved of the tax law (73% versus 79%).

But the dichotomy between Republican approval and Democratic disapproval of the tax system generally fits the trend of partisan polarization that has typified the majority of Pew’s surveys since 2016.

In 2018, roughly 40% of both Democratic and Republican respondents felt that the tax system was moderately to very fair. The latest data shows that 64% of Republican respondents felt that the tax system was fair, whereas only 32% of Democrats said the same. The disparity in opinions represents the largest divergence on tax issues in more than 20 years.

The study also showed respondents’ income played an even bigger role in determining their opinions on the tax law than party affiliation.

Respondents who made less than $30,000 a year demonstrated little change in their perceptions. Republicans in this income bracket were slightly more likely to think the tax system was fair – 56% versus 51% in October 2017, before the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was passed. Democrats making less than $30,000 were slightly less likely to find the law to be fair (40% versus 41% in 2017).

Respondents who made between $30,000 and $75,000 diverged similarly to the overall average on this question – 62% of those Republicans said the current tax law was fair, while 36 percent of Democrats felt that it was unfair.

When researchers looked at responses from those who made more than $75,000, they found a divergence greater than the average. A 68% majority of Republican respondents in this income bracket said the law is fair, compared to only 37% in 2017.

In the same income bracket, 21% of Democratic respondents said the tax law was fair, a 19-point drop since 2017.

Researchers also asked respondents about more specific tax criticisms. On each question, Republican respondents were consistently less bothered by the current tax law, including corporate taxes, taxes on the wealthy, their personal tax rate and the complexity of the tax system overall.

Inversely, Democratic respondents were more bothered by the tax law. More of them felt that corporations do not pay their fair share, as well as wealthy people in general.

However, partisans found positive consensus on the personal tax rate and the complexity of the tax system generally. Data from respondents of both parties on these two questions fell within 1 percentage point of each other. Only a minority of overall respondents felt that their own tax rate was unfair and that the tax system was too complex (27% and 39%, respectively).

While the average approval of the tax law has changed little in the past year, the growing divide over tax fairness furthers the overarching trend of hyper-partisanship in America.

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