Polling on extending all the Bush tax cuts and the Affordable Care Act have produced some confounding results. A new McClatchy-Marist poll shows strong support for extending all the Bush tax cuts and polls consistently show public hatred of the Affordable Care Act, but delight in several of its provisions.
In the McClatchy-Marist poll, 52 percent of registered voters want all the Bush tax cuts extended. The breakdowns were as follows on full extention: voters aged 18-29 favored it 69 to 29; Latinos by 62 to 34; whites by 50 to 43; blacks by 48 to 47; and those making less than $50,000 by 53 to 41.
Contrary to the poll above, other polls have shown the public strongly in favor of taxing the rich more to get additional revenue for the national government: a very recent poll showed support by a two to one margin.
Pollsters have suggested that divergent results in polls depend to a great degree in how a question is asked. In the case of the Bush tax cuts, respondents may have seen extending the cuts for some but not for others as a case of unfair treatment, or they may have bought into the class warfare argument. Perhaps many do not understand how sharply skewed the Bush tax cuts are to the very wealthy in society. Permanent extention of the cuts means a huge reduction, over the long-term, in governmental revenues.
In regard to the Affordable Care Act, polling until very recent times, has shown strong opposition to the legislation; yet majorities, some very decisive, like provisions of the law, which will not be fully in effect until 2014. These provisions include: children being covered on their parents’ insurance until age 26; a ban on denying insurance coverage due to pre-existing conditions; and a cap on medical coverage payments.
The kind of contradictory polling results described above are indicative of a very poorly informed public, a very small percentage of whom ever contact their representatives in Congress or in state legislatures on a policy matter not related to an individual or family problem. Many examples could be cited on how skittish and unreliable it is to base major governmental decisions on public opinion polling, but a very good example of it is how public opinion shifted before and after the invasion of Iraq. Before the invasion, polling showed that only a third or a little more supported an invasion without either a United Nations resolution or a strong coalition reminiscent of Gulf War I. Immediately after the invasion, about three-quarters of those polled supported the invasion, even absent a UN resolution or a strong coalition of nations involved in the war effort.
Part of the problem inherent in the public wanting to continue generous tax breaks to the rich when put in one framework but wanting to have the rich pay more taxes when put into another framework, is that those who should be educating the public about policy implications often do such an inadequate job of it. I experienced a example of this phenomenon last night in how a substitute host on the Alan Colmes radio show handled a caller, who angerily complained that it was unfair to ask rich people to pay more in taxes, when they already pay 50 to 60 percent of all federal income tax. The host had revealed herself to be quite well-informed about the need for a progressive taxation system; however, I thought she responded very poorly to the caller’s argument. She focused on the fairness issue, contending that it is unfair to have a millionaire or billionaire pay a lower tax rate than the average working man or woman. In my estimation, the better response would have been two-fold or even lthree-fold in nature: 1) those with lesser economic means pay a higher percentage of their income for the necessities of life than do those with greater economic means; 2) the top few percent of taxpayers control most of the wealth and receive most of the income, thus, they should pay the lion’s share of the income tax; and 3) a progressive income tax counteracts a FICA tax, which is very regressive because everyone pays the same rate and all income over a cap of $109,600 is not taxed. It is also the case that workers who earn less than $100,000 pay more in FICA taxes than they do in federal income taxes.
I close this blog with a very provocative idea expressed by a talk show caller during the past week. He said the very high top marginal tax rates after World War II were very conducive to job creation. There was a very strong incentive for owners of businesses to grow their businesses because their expenses would reduce their taxable income.