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.
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