Which GOP Lies on Tax Reform are the Most Effective?

A few weeks ago, we marveled at how the GOP has been using populist messaging on their tax reform bill, which is a massive giveaway to wealthy individuals and profitable corporations. We recently stumbled across a poll which sheds some light on exactly why the GOP can't simply be honest about their bill. The poll was conducted by the American Action Network, a conservative nonprofit issue advocacy group. To get an idea of what the AAN is all about, check out this attack ad they ran against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau using Soviet imagery. If you are not familiar with the CFPB, it is a independent agency whose creation was largely the work of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and investigates predatory practices in the financial industry. 

Aside from being commissioned by a right wing organization with a habit of comparing basic consumer protections to the gulag, only conservatives from Republican districts were surveyed. So if there is any popular support for tax reform, then this is where we should find it. In this group 77% thought that Congress should cut taxes for individuals and 54% thought that Congress should cut taxes for individuals and businesses. A bare majority of support for tax cuts on individuals and businesses is pretty terrible when the group you are polling is the group that should be the most enthusiastic about tax reform. This number is consistent with recent pew polling which found that only 48% of conservative Republicans and 41% of Republicans overall thought taxes should be lowered on large businesses. The same Pew poll also found that 36% of Republicans want taxes cut for households incomes over 250k.

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Your District is More Flippable Than You Think

Your District is More Flippable Than You Think

In our series on voter turnout, we previously looked at the congressional abstention rates (casting a ballot but not voting for a congressional candidate) in New Jersey Municipalities in the 2016 election. After accounting for the statewide trend of higher congressional abstention in municipalities with lower incomes, we found a pretty strong district level trend where turnout was higher in districts that ended up being more competitive races. Since voters can't know the outcome of the election before it happens, any direct effect on turnout must be due to perceived competitiveness. This made us wonder about how perceptions of competitiveness can be manipulated to change the actual competitiveness of a race. With this in mind, in this post we will look at New Jersey's 11th district, which has been held for over two decades by Republican Rodney Frelinghuysen. 

Frelinghuysen has won reelection very comfortably for his whole career, most recently defeating Democrat Joe Wenzel and winning 58% of the vote in 2016. Republicans generally dominate state and local public offices in the district as well, and the conventional wisdom is that the district is a fairly safe Republican seat. As far as we can tell however, the safety of Frelinghuysen's seat depends on his campaigns consistently turning out a Republican base that is not nearly as large as Frelinghuysen would like opponents to believe. This job is made even more difficult because he needs to convince substantial numbers of these core supporters to consistently vote for the Republican party against their own policy interests. 

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The GOP's Populist Messaging on Tax Cuts for the Ultra Wealthy

The GOP's Populist Messaging on Tax Cuts for the Ultra Wealthy

GOP messaging on tax reform has been interesting to say the least. Tax cuts for the wealthy are very unpopular, except among the GOP donor class. 'Trickle Down' economic theory, which asserts that low taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals spurs economic growth that ultimately benefits everyone in society, is also a tough sell. Empirical studies have shown that in reality, such cuts do the opposite of what trickle down theory says they should; they increase budget deficits (which Republicans supposedly care about), and even diminish economic growth. The abject failure of high tax cuts in Kansas serves as a recent warning of just how damaging these policies can be to the economy.

At the end of the day, the GOP donors want their tax cuts though, so it is up to the GOP to pitch them to the American people. They have set up a website fairandsimple.gop to make their case. Read the whole site if you have time, it is truly fascinating, and the way they talk about elimination of various tax deductions is particularly interesting. Elimination of certain itemized deductions are discussed under the heading: "Eliminates loopholes for the wealthy, protects bedrock provisions for middle class."

This clearly invokes some of the populist messaging that has been used by various candidates that appeals to the sense that many have that the wealthy in the country do not pay their fair share in taxes. Combine that with the fact that the GOP plan doubles the standard deduction, which lowers the tax liability for those who do not have very many itemized deductions, and it seems like perhaps the GOP is really making an honest effort to lower taxes for the middle class.

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Congressional Abstention Catch-22

Congressional Abstention Catch-22

We recently started exploring patterns in voter turnout in New Jersey, with an eye towards putting together data and analyses that will hopefully be of use to advocates who are interested in improving voter turnout and access. In the last post in this series, we took a look at the relationship between voter turnout and income in New Jersey municipalities. The idea was to see if there were any trends in turnout at the county level that emerged after accounting for the trend of lower turnout in municipalities with lower incomes.

Here we will look at the 2016 congressional turnout, but in a slightly different way than we did before. First, instead of using the number of ballots cast as a fraction of the number of registered voters as the measure of turnout, we'll use the number of votes cast in the congressional race as a fraction of ballots cast. This generally represents the congressional abstention rate, or the rate at which voters cast a presidential ballot but left the congressional question blank. This measure also eliminates difficulty or deterrence in casting a ballot as a factor on turnout, since by definition there are at least as many ballots cast as votes cast in the congressional race.

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Rodney Frelinghuysen's Voters Take A Lot of SALT Deductions

Rodney Frelinghuysen's Voters Take A Lot of SALT Deductions

The GOP controlled House of Representatives recently passed a budget resolution, which is regarded as one of the first steps toward passing a proposed overhaul of the U.S. tax code. The Republicans have not released a complete version of their plan, which seems to be a fairly transparent ploy to dismiss critics by saying that the plan is incomplete and will be modified later. Additionally, since there are winners and losers in any reform of the tax code, floating a partial plan lets republicans test the waters to see what kind of pushback they get and from where. As the plan stands now, the federal income tax deduction for State and Local Tax (SALT) paid is to be eliminated. This will potentially increase the tax liability for middle to upper middle class families, especially in blue states where State and Local Taxes are relatively high. A recent analysis by NJ Spotlight computed estimates of the how much in SALT deductions New Jersey residents stand to lose by zip code, using data compiled from individual tax returns by the IRS.

Among the Yea votes for the budget resolution was Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey's 11th district, whose constituents, and in particular his voter base, take a lot of state and local tax deductions. The plan is incomplete and elimination of SALT deductions is only one among many changes of the tax code. Therefore estimating the change in someones tax liability is very complex, and critics such as ourselves can't claim that elimination of someones SALT deductions means their taxes will go up. However, being a grown adult and an experienced legislator, if Congressman Frelinghuysen believes that a GOP tax plan that includes elimination of SALT deductions will be a net benefit to his constituents, then it is up to him to make his case. We have a feeling that a many of his constituents, and even many of his lifelong supporters will want these details about the changes in their tax liability clarified as soon as possible.

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