A new poll finds clear, overwhelming public support for specific tax increases on big corporations and the rich.
In a stunning change of public attitudes, Republicans have lost majority support for their signature, if not only, economic policy issue: tax cuts.
The results from a host of polls this year indicate that Democrats can win big in future elections if they focus on progressive tax-and-spend policies that create jobs, protect Social Security and Medicare and require rich Americans and big corporations to shoulder more of the burden of supporting government.
Likewise, if the public views Democrats as nothing more than “Republican lite” on economics, offering a weak brew of deference to Wall Street and discredited Chicago School theories, these same polls suggest Democrats will throw away an opportunity to shift national economic policies away from Reaganism.
Asked what budget priorities they want Congress to focus on, 68 percent of voters chose strengthening the economy and creating jobs while just 28 percent want deficit reduction and lowering the national debt (the Tea Party platform).
Those figures come from a Hart Research Associates telephone poll of 1,009 registered voters conducted in late October for Americans for Tax Fairness, a coalition of 325 progressive, labor and similar organizations.
While the poll was conducted for progressives, it is consistent with other polls sampling public attitudes about the economy, taxes and federal spending.
Indeed, the latest poll shows that even a quarter of Tea Party Republicans favor some progressive tax and spend policies.
It also shows that almost 4 in 5 registered voters want to close corporate loopholes — which both parties say they support, but which Republicans have repeatedly blocked, arguing that this would amount to backdoor tax hikes. Some Democrats have also worked to protect corporate tax favors.
A convincing 7 in 10 voters favor maintaining current tax rates on profits earned offshore and imposing a 30 percent or higher tax on annual incomes above $1 million, a policy known as the Buffett Rule. Both of these policies are favored by progressive Democrats and opposed by leading Republicans.
Looked at from the opposite perspective, the poll results show that only small minorities of voters support multinational companies that want to bring home hundreds of billions of dollars parked offshore while paying little or no tax.
This also means that few Americans believe the wealthiest Americans pay too much income tax.
This finding is crucial because it means an implicit rejection of the argument Republicans have made for more than three decades: that job creation depends on reduced taxes on the rich. The theory is not supported by decades of empirical data that I analyzed for my trilogy on the American economy: Perfectly Legal, Free Lunch and The Fine Print.
The very richest taxpayers pay the federal government a significantly smaller share of their incomes than single workers making $500 per week, the official data show. For years now I have been showing from the official data, tax code provisions and court cases how little-known rules let hedge fund and private equity managers as well as billionaires live virtually tax-free, paying taxes only on incidental income they cannot avoid.
These polls show the budget sequester and government shutdown were immensely unpopular, with most of the blame being assigned to Republicans.
The new poll found that 56 percent of voters favor a mix of revenue increases and spending cuts and 39 percent favor only spending cuts.
What’s striking is that while 61 percent of Republicans favored a cuts-only approach, only 52 percent of Republican women and just 47 percent of non-Tea Party Republicans of both sexes held this view.
Among Tea Party men, 73 percent want only spending cuts, which means nearly 1 in 4 favors a combination of revenue increases and spending cuts.
This is consistent with an ABC News/Washington Post poll in early October showing that almost 6 in 10 Americans favor a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. Almost identical results turned up in five CBS News/New York Times polls this year.
A majority 6 in 10 Americans surveyed just before tax day last April for the Associated Press favored the Buffett Rule, the minimum 30 percent tax rate on incomes above $1 million. That is about what the new Hart poll for Americans for Tax Fairness found.
About two-thirds of Americans believe corporations pay too little in tax, the Gallup poll has found in surveys going back nearly a decade. The Hart poll found similar sentiments.
Since the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, on a platform promising that tax rate cuts would produce a balanced budget and abundant prosperity, Republicans have emphasized tax rate cuts as the key to economic growth and jobs. They have argued for lower taxes on the rich – calling them job creators – and on corporations.
The results of three decades of tax rate cuts have been massive increases in federal debt, population growth far outpacing jobs and wage stagnation for a majority of workers, with the median wage in 2012 at its lowest level in real terms since 1998.
A little-known law Reagan signed has also encouraged corporations to siphon profits out of the country as expenses paid to offshore subsidiaries. This reduces their tax burden so much that many big companies actually turn a profit off their income taxes, as I explained here.
That the Democrats have taken away the tax issue from the Republicans is a remarkable turn for anyone who grew up, as I did, in the 1950s and 1960s. The Republicans were regarded as the party of fiscal responsibility, a view that stuck even though Democrats produced the only federal budget surpluses in the past 50 years.
Three-quarters of the national debt on the day Barack Obama became president in 2009 was rung up in the 20 years of Reagan and the two Bushes.
Obama has run up the federal debt enormously, but he has also brought the federal budget deficit down by more than half in dollars and nearly 60 percent as a share of the economy. Polls show fewer than 10 percent of Americans know this, but the latest polling data suggests these facts may finally be seeping into the public consciousness.
The question these polls all raise is whether the Democrats can turn popular support for their policies into victories in elections, or will squander the opportunity.
Photo: Phillip Taylor PT via Flickr