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Were Bush Tax Cut Supporters “Simply Ignorant?” A Second Look at Conservatives and Liberals in “Homer Gets a Tax Cut”

  • Arthur Lupia (a1), Adam Seth Levine (a2), Jesse O. Menning (a3) and Gisela Sin (a4)

In a recent issue of Perspectives on Politics, Larry Bartels examines the high levels of support for tax cuts signed into law by President Bush in 2001. In so doing, he characterizes the opinions of “ordinary people” as lacking “a moral basis” and as being based on “simple-minded and sometimes misguided considerations of self interest.” He concludes that “the strong plurality support for Bush's tax cut … is entirely attributable to simple ignorance.”

Our analysis of the same data reveals different results. We show that for a large and politically relevant class of respondents, conservatives and Republicans, rising information levels increase support for the tax cuts. In fact, Republican respondents rated “most informed” supported the tax cuts at extraordinarily high levels (over 96 percent). For these citizens, Bartels' claim that “better-informed respondents were much more likely to express negative views about the 2001 tax cut” is untrue. Bartels' results depend on the strong assumption that if more information about the tax cut makes liberals less likely to support it, then conservatives must follow suit. Our analysis allows groups to process information in different ways and can better help political entrepreneurs better reconcile critical social needs with citizens' desires.Arthur Lupia is the Hal R. Varian Collegiate Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan ( Adam Seth Levine is a graduate student in the Department of Political Science at the University of Michigan ( Jesse O. Menning received a Master's Degree in Political Science from the University of Michigan in 2005. He is currently an information technology consultant ( Gisela Sin is Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois ( We thank Scott Althaus, John Bullock, Nancy E. Burns, James N. Druckman, Elisabeth R. Gerber, Orit Kedar, Kenneth W. Kollman, Arthur Lupia Sr., Jan Lupia, Diana C. Mutz, Samuel L. Popkin, Markus Prior, Paul M. Sniderman, and Kaare Ström for advice. We thank Larry Bartels for his generosity and assistance in our replication efforts. We thank David Howell and the NES Staff for assistance with the NES data set. This article uses data from the 2002 American National Election Studies, sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York (grant B7532), the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, the Russell Sage Foundation (grant 83-02-05), and the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, Office of the Provost, Office of the Vice President of Research, and Department of Political Science for funding the 2002 National Election Studies; Nancy E. Burns and Donald R. Kinder, Principal Investigators.

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Bartels, Larry M.2005. Homer gets a tax cut: Inequality and public policy in the American mind. Perspectives on Politics3 (1): 1532.

Brady, Henry E., and Paul M.Sniderman. 1985. Attitude attribution: A group basis for political reasoning. American Political Science Review79 (4): 106178.

Delli Carpini, Michael X., and ScottKeeter. 1993. Measuring political knowledge: Putting first things first. American Journal of Political Science37 (4): 1179206.

Hacker, Jacob S., and PaulPierson. 2005. Abandoning the middle: The Bush tax cuts and the limits of democratic control. Perspectives on Politics3 (1): 3353.

Krupnikov, Yanna, Adam SethLevine, MarkusPrior, and ArthurLupia. 2006. Public ignorance and estate tax repeal: The effect of partisan differences and survey incentives. National Tax Journal59 (September): 42537.

Lupia, Arthur. 2006. How elitism undermines the study of voter competence. Critical Review18: 21732.

Mondak, Jeffery. 1999. “Reconsidering the Measurement of Political Knowledge.”Political Analysis8: 5782.

Mondak, Jeffery, and Belinda CreelDavis. 2001. Asked and answered: Knowledge levels when we will not take “don't know” for an answer. Political Behavior23: 199224.

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Perspectives on Politics
  • ISSN: 1537-5927
  • EISSN: 1541-0986
  • URL: /core/journals/perspectives-on-politics
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