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New poll shows what Americans really think about taxes: the rich should pay more

Democrats are unified, the GOP divided on the issue.

Americans’ top concern about the tax code is that they want corporations and wealthy individuals to pay more taxes. Even among rank-and-file Republicans, soaking the rich is at least moderately popular.

That’s according to a new report out from the Pew Center that takes a deep dive into public opinion on taxes. It reveals that there is extraordinarily little public support for the main thrust of GOP tax reform efforts that aim to “simplify” the tax code and deliver lower rates for businesses and high-income households.

Not only does this agenda have little public support, it’s also divisive. Democrats of all stripes essentially agree that rich people and businesses should pay more. But there’s a strong class divide inside the Republican Party, with rich Republicans favoring tax cuts and poorer ones opposing them.

Working-class Republicans’ nonchalance about conservative orthodoxy on economic policy was a key factor in helping Donald Trump win the 2016 GOP nomination. But he’s governed as an increasingly straightforward right-winger, and gives no sign of dissenting from his party’s unpopular stance on the tax issue.

Americans want to tax the rich

The key chart here shows that upward of 60 percent of the public says they are very worried that some corporations and wealthy individuals aren’t paying their fair share.

That doesn’t automatically mean support for any particular policy agenda. But it suggests that public is open to the idea of, at a minimum, curtailing loopholes and deductions without any offsetting cuts in the top rates.

Tax complexity, which is a wonk obsession, certainly merits some concern. But it’s a distinctly secondary concern to the notion that privileged groups aren’t paying what they ought to.

Americans aren’t personally clamoring for a tax cut

One very significant finding here: While most people say they would like to be paying lower taxes, the public is genuinely not that fired up about this subject. Back in 2001, George W. Bush introduced legislation that cut taxes for virtually all working households but delivered much larger benefits to high-income households than middle- or working-class ones.

Most Democrats raised a big stink about this, and many also complaining that the proposed tax cut was fiscally imprudent. But most people were fundamentally unimpressed. At the end of the day, people were excited about the idea of paying lower taxes.

Nowadays, even Republicans are more worried about the rich not paying their fair share than they are about snagging a tax cut for themselves.

The GOP class divide

A fascinating aspect of rank-and-file Republicans’ mixed feelings on the tax issue is that it’s heavily mediated by income.

Democrats are basically all in agreement on taxes, with higher income Democrats being maybe even a little more left-wing than lower-income ones. But among Republicans, there’s a significant income gradient, with more affluent Republicans being closer to the party leadership’s priorities and less affluent ones disagreeing.

The Obamacare repeal debate is about taxing the rich

These broad facts are worth dwelling on even in the absence of a legislative fight over specific tax legislation, because they actually touch centrally on a core issue in the debate over the Affordable Care Act.

There are a lot of moving pieces to this law, and a lot of objections one could raise to it. But one big thing the law does is significantly increase taxes on rich households and some corporations, and then use the money to subsidize people’s health care. All the different forms of Obamacare repeal that Republican leaders have contemplated significantly roll back these taxes and spend less money. The price you pay for that is without the money, it’s simply inevitable that you wind up delivering lower-quality insurance to most people.

That’s fine if you think lower taxes on the rich should be a major policy priority. But as this poll shows, most voters think the opposite is true.