Skip to main content
×
Home
    • Aa
    • Aa

Homer Gets a Tax Cut: Inequality and Public Policy in the American Mind

  • Larry M. Bartels (a1)
Abstract

In 2001 and 2003, the Bush administration engineered two enormous tax cuts primarily benefiting very wealthy taxpayers. Most Americans supported these tax cuts. I argue that they did so not because they were indifferent to economic inequality, but because they largely failed to connect inequality and public policy. Three out of every four people polled said that the difference in incomes between rich people and poor people has increased in the past 20 years, and most of them added that that is a bad thing—but most of those people still supported the regressive 2001 Bush tax cut and the even more regressive repeal of the estate tax. Several manifestly relevant considerations had negligible or seemingly perverse effects on these policy views, including assessments of the wastefulness of government spending and desires for additional spending on a variety of government programs. Support for the Bush tax cuts was strongly shaped by people's attitudes about their own tax burdens, but virtually unaffected by their attitudes about the tax burden of the rich—even in the case of the estate tax, which only affects the wealthiest one or two percent of taxpayers. Public opinion in this instance was ill informed, insensitive to some of the most important implications of the tax cuts, and largely disconnected from (or misconnected to) a variety of relevant values and material interests.Larry M. Bartels is the Donald E. Stokes Professor of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University (bartels@princeton.edu). He directs the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics in Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. This article is a revised and abridged version of a paper originally presented at the 2003 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association and subsequently presented in seminars and conferences at the University of Michigan, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Brookings Institution, Harvard University, Demos, and Princeton University, and at the 2004 meeting of the Russell Sage Foundation's University Working Groups on the Social Dimensions of Inequality. The author is grateful to numerous seminar and conference participants, colleagues, students, and friends for their criticism and support. He is also grateful to the Russell Sage Foundation for generous financial support of his research through a grant to the Princeton Working Group on Inequality, and for additional support of the primary data collection on which the present report is based.

Copyright
References
Hide All

References

Alter, Jonathan. 2003. “Let them eat cake” economics. Newsweek, July 28.
Andrews, Edmund L. 2003. Your taxes: Too many pennies from heaven? New York Times, February 16.
Bartels, Larry M. 1990. Public opinion and political interests. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago.
Bartels, Larry M. 1996. Uninformed votes: Information effects in presidential elections. American Journal of Political Science 40 (1): 194230.
Bartels, Larry M. 2004. Unenlightened self-interest: The strange appeal of estate tax repeal. American Prospect, June.
Broder, David. 2003. The tax-cut skeptics back home. Washington Post, May 28.
Citizens for Tax Justice. 2002. Year-by-year analysis of the Bush tax cuts shows growing tilt to the very rich. June 12. http://www.ctj.org/html/gwb0602.htm.
Citizens for Tax Justice. 2003. Effects of first three Bush tax cuts charted. June 4. http://www.ctj.org/pdf/allbushcut.pdf.
Delli Carpini, Michael X., and Scott Keeter. 1996. What Americans know about politics and why it matters. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Feldman, Stanley. 2003. A conflicted public? Equality, fairness, and redistribution. Paper presented at the conference Inequality and American Democracy, Princeton University, November 7–8.
Firestone, David. 2003. Tax law omits $400 child credit for millions. New York Times, May 29.
Fishkin, James S. 1997. The voice of the people: Public opinion and democracy. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Gale, William G., Peter Orszag, and Isaac Shapiro. 2004. Distributional effects of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts and their financing. Washington, DC: Tax Policy Center, June 3.
Gilens, Martin. 2001. Political ignorance and collective policy preferences. American Political Science Review 95 (2): 37996.
Glazer, Nathan. 2003. On Americans and inequality. Daedalus 132 (3): 11115.
Hacker, Jacob S., and Paul Pierson. 2005. Abandoning the middle: The Bush tax cuts and the limits of democratic control. Perspectives on Politics 3 (1): 3353.
Heckman, James. 1979. Sample selection bias as a specification error. Econometrica 47 (1): 15361.
Hochschild, Jennifer L. 1981. What's fair? American beliefs about distributive justice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Jencks, Christopher. 2002. Does inequality matter? Daedalus 131 (1): 4965.
Joint Committee on Taxation. 2001. Estimated revenue effects of the president's fiscal year 2002 budget proposal, JCX-31-01, May 4.
Krugman, Paul. 2002. For richer: How the permissive capitalism of the boom destroyed American equality. New York Times Magazine, October 20.
Krugman, Paul. 2003. Roads not taken. New York Times, April 25.
Lowery, David, and Lee Sigelman. 1981. Understanding the tax revolt: Eight explanations. American Political Science Review 75 (4): 96374.
McCall, Leslie. 2003. Do they know and do they care? Americans' awareness of rising inequality. Presented at the conference on Inequality and American Democracy, Princeton University, November 7–8.
McClosky, Herbert, and John Zaller. 1984. The American ethos: Public attitudes toward capitalism and democracy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Mishel, Lawrence, Jared Bernstein, and Heather Boushey. 2003. The state of working America 2002/2003. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
National Election Studies. 2002. The 2002 national election study [dataset]. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan, Center for Political Studies. www.umich.edu/∼nes.
National Public Radio/Kaiser Family Foundation/Kennedy School of Government. 2003. National survey of Americans' views on taxes. April. http://www.kff.org/kaiserpolls/3340-index.cfm.
Osberg, Lars, and Timothy Smeeding. 2003. An international comparison of preferences for leveling. Unpublished manuscript, Dalhousie University and Syracuse University; version 2.1.
Peterson, Peter G. 2003. Deficits and dysfunction. New York Times Magazine, June 8.
Pew Research Center for the People, and the Press. 2003. Democrats frustrated with party even as candidates gain visibility: Bush approval slips—Fix economy, say voters. Survey Report. August 7. http://people-press.org/reports/pdf/190.pdf.
Rosenbaum, David E., and David Firestone. 2003. $318 billion deal is set in Congress for cutting taxes. New York Times, May 22.
Samuelson, Robert J. 2001. Indifferent to inequality? Newsweek, May 7.
Schattschneider, E. E. 1942. Party government. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Sloan, Allan. 2003. The tax cut: Whose is bigger? Newsweek, May 5.
Springer, John. 2003. Administration tax cut proposals would cost $2.7 trillion through 2013. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. March 10, 2003. http://www.cbpp.org/1-24-03tax-fact.htm.
Verba, Sidney, and Gary R. Orren. 1985. Equality in America: The view from the top. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Will, George F. 2003. The long and short of the “stimulus package.” Washington Post, January 8.
Zaller, John. 1985. Pre-testing information items on the 1986 NES pilot survey. Report to the National Election Study Board of Overseers.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Perspectives on Politics
  • ISSN: 1537-5927
  • EISSN: 1541-0986
  • URL: /core/journals/perspectives-on-politics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 101
Total number of PDF views: 458 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 1781 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 20th October 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.