On Taxes, The GOP Turns Their Strength Into a Weakness

By risking a world economic crisis in order to protect tax breaks for the wealthy, Republicans have exposed their real tax priorities. And voters are unimpressed.

According to this week's Washington Post/ABC News poll, voters are mostly divided on how Obama is handling taxes (45% approve, 47% disapprove). By comparison, two-thirds (65%) disapprove of how Republicans in Congress are handling taxes.

Public polling comparing the two parties shows Democrats have gained the upper hand on taxes. At more points in 2011 Democrats had the advantage over (or were exactly tied with) Republicans on trustworthiness on taxes. In 2010, Republicans had the advantage more frequently. While these numbers can bounce around, the chart below shows a pattern emerging.


This shouldn't come as a surprise. A flurry of polls this week show Americans greatly prefer to see this debt crisis end with some tax increases on the wealthy. Some highlights:

  • In this NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey half of voters say Republicans should "definitely" agree to a compromise that raises taxes on the wealthy. Another 14% say they "probably" should agree to such a compromise.
  • Quinnipiac University shows voters consider Obama's revenue-raising plans "closing tax loopholes" (45%) rather than raising taxes (37%). The same poll also shows Republicans are mostly divided on whether a debt ceiling agreement should increase taxes on the wealthy and corporations (48% only spending cuts, 43% also taxes).
  • Similarly, Pew Research Center showed in May nearly two-thirds want to see a combination of taxes and spending cuts to reduce the deficit, including a clear majority of "Main Street Republicans" (59%) and 45% of Libertarians.
  • In the Washington Post/ABC News poll cited above, the only specific popular proposals to reduce the deficit involve raising taxes on the wealthy. Increasing taxes on oil and gas companies, means-testing Medicare, increasing Social Security taxes on the wealthier, and raising taxes on hedge fund managers and on those making over $250,000 are all popular. Cutting benefits or military spending are not.
  • Lastly, in this recent Gallup poll, only 3% name taxes as the most important issue facing the country today.

Candidates and political parties frequently try to turn their weaknesses into strengths. Too young? You have energy. Some checkered personal finances? You're struggling just like millions of Americans. But through their intractable position on the debt ceiling, Republicans have deliberately turned one of their so-called strengths -- taxes -- into a weakness. Now even many Republican voters disagree with their platform. Through purism they've painted themselves into a corner.