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Tax Law Unlikely to Help GOP in Midterm Elections: Brookings

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The tax overhaul is unlikely to play a significant role in the November midterm elections, according to a paper published last week by the Brookings Institution.

Brookings fellow Vanessa Williamson, the paper’s author, says there are only a few avenues by which the legislation is likely to help Republican chances at the polls.

She writes that Republicans could be rewarded for general economic growth created by the law, but notes that the strong relationship between economic growth and electoral rewards for incumbents holds only in presidential election years.

Republicans might also receive gratitude at the polls for more money in people’s paychecks, but according to Williamson, voters tend to respond to general economic conditions rather than their personal situation.

In her paper, she identifies several reasons the tax bill is unlikely to help Republicans much in November.

Individual voters are very unlikely to reward Republicans for the income increase they personally experienced from the tax law, Williamson says, because the tax cuts most people will receive are small.

People in the bottom three income quintiles will see about a 1% increase in after-tax income, while those in the middle income quintile — households making between $48,600 and $86,100 annually — will take home a little less than $20 extra each week, on average.

In any case, she writes, changes in take-home pay resulting from the law are unlikely to influence voters’ behavior because they typically do not vote based on their own pocketbooks.

Instead, the voting public is “sociotropic” in their economic assessments — meaning that they respond to the ups and downs of the economy as a whole rather than to changes in their own individual well-being.

As for the law’s short-term stimulative effects, these are also unlikely to matter much, for two reasons: The effects are small, and the economy matters less for midterm election results.

Williamson also writes that the legislation is poorly situated to mobilize Republican voters, whose support for the legislation was always lukewarm. Only about 32% of Americans supported the legislation in the lead-up to its passage, an approval rating lower than that received by several major federal tax increases in years past.

In her paper, she examines how economic conditions have historically shaped electoral outcomes in the U.S., discusses how partisanship interacts with public attitudes about policy and assess the likelihood that public perceptions of the tax law will influence voting.

Finally, she reflects on the role of money in politics, and how the tax overhaul might change the money available to different political interests both in the near and long term.

Although Williamson concludes that the tax law is unlikely to be much of a player in the 2018 midterm elections, she suggests that in the long run, Republicans will likely benefit from its upward redistribution targeted to their donor class.

— Check out Republicans Weigh Abandoning Tax Cut 2.0 After SALT Backlash on ThinkAdvisor.


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