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04/10/2001 07:00:00

Seventy Percent of Americans Think Bush'sTax Plans Mainly Benefit Wealthy, Study Shows

Seven in 10 Americans think the Bush administration's proposed tax cuts would mainly benefit the wealthiest taxpayers, according to a national poll conducted by the University of Southern California and the California Institute of Technology's joint Center for the Study of Law and Politics (CSLP).

The study, which also revealed deep divisions along political and gender lines about how much of a tax cut should be enacted, shows that 29 percent of the public believe Bush's proposals would be of most benefit to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. An additional 41 percent believe the wealthiest 10 percent would be the beneficiaries.

Yet, in polling conducted while the Senate was considering President Bush's $1.6 trillion tax-cut proposal, 44 percent agreed with the president that the size of the cut was "just right"; 41 percent agreed with the majority of the Senate, who sliced the proposal by some $400 billion, that the President's cuts were "too big." Fifteen percent saw President Bush's tax cut as "too small."

"To see so much ambivalence in the American public about tax cuts shows how much work President Bush still has to do," noted Professor R. Michael Alvarez, a political scientist from Caltech associated with the CSLP, and one of the principal investigators of this study.

"It's clear that even though this was the centerpiece issue of his presidential campaign, President Bush has not closed the deal yet on his $1.6 trillion tax cut," Alvarez said.

Professor Edward McCaffery of the USC Law School and Caltech, director of CSLP, and another investigator on the study, noted that tax-cut fever is catching. "Everyone wants something from Uncle Sam, even if they know that others will get more."

Most respondents said they favored income tax cuts across the board (29 percent), followed by elimination of the marriage penalty (17 percent), Social Security or cuts in Medicare taxes (13 percent), elimination of the estate or death tax (11 percent), or new tax credits for retirement accounts (10 percent). Eight percent said they favored no tax cut at all or had no opinion on the matter.

But on this specific breakdown, as on other issues that CSLP is examining, McCaffery noted a pronounced gender gap: "When it comes to tax cuts, men are far more likely to have an opinion, and a positive one; women are less certain about the whole deal."

As an indication of the political fights facing President Bush, Alvarez pointed to the partisan conflict underlying public opinion about the tax cut: "62 percent of Republicans saw the Bush tax cut as `just right,' while 60 percent of Democrats said it is `too large.'" Importantly, survey respondents who said they were independent were divided, with 42 percent saying the Bush tax cuts were `too large' and 42 percent saying they were 'just right,' Alvarez added.

The national probability telephone survey was conducted between March 26 and April 6. Interviews were conducted by Interview Services of America, Inc. Fifteen hundred American adults were interviewed, with a margin of error for the sample of +/- 2.5 percent.

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Written by Robert Tindol