Tax Reform: What Do the Polls Tell Us?

Charles Cooper

Tax reform may finally be reaching a tipping point to create real change in Congress

Tax reform is towards the top of any policymaker’s list of issues that should be addressed by the 115th Congress. Policymakers said the same for the 114th Congress and many Congresses before that. Despite a lot of focus and attention on the issue each year, no attempt at comprehensive tax reform has been successful since the 99th Congress, when the Tax Reform Act passed the House and Senate and was signed into law by President Reagan; the legislation was bipartisan (led by two Democrats legislators and signed by a Republican president).

Since 1986, there hasn’t been any comprehensive tax reform advanced by Congress. In fact, the most recent attempt didn’t even get a House or Senate markup. So, is this time any different than past attempts that have failed? Maybe.

Tax reform is always an easy talking point on the campaign trail and something that voters can easily relate to. Who doesn’t want a simpler and less burdensome tax code, right?

Well, a historical analysis of polling highlights some interesting trends. According to Gallup polls, 63% of those polled in 1985 believed that their taxes were too high, which was the highest percentage recorded by Gallup in over a decade for this question. The following year the Tax Reform Act was signed into law. Recent polling shows that 57% agree that their taxes are too high, which is the highest point since 2001, according to Gallup historical data.

Pew polling from 2013 highlights similar trends, with 72% of respondents indicating that they believe that the tax code needs major changes or to be completely rebuilt – a significant increase since 2005, when only 46% of respondents agreed. Fox News recently released a poll that had 73% of respondents indicating that the tax code should be reformed this year. Along similar lines, a recent POLITICO/Morning Consult poll found that 65% of respondents would be satisfied or excited if tax reform was passed into law.

All of this polling indicates that support for tax reform may be reaching a tipping point, similar to the one we saw ahead of the passage of the Tax Reform Act.

The overwhelming numbers show that voters want their policymakers to advance tax reform, which is a step in the right direction for lawmakers hoping that this is the year to do so. With such broad public support for tax reform, it is not surprising that policymakers are focused on moving a proposal this year. Whether such high levels of support exist when details on a tax reform plan are released – and the reforms are more than just a concept – remains to be seen. But for now, 56% of respondent to the recent Politico/Morning Consult poll believe that passing tax reform is at least somewhat likely.  For now, all we can do is wait.