A story from Roll Call reveals that Republican Senators have been advised by their pollsters that tax breaks are no longer a priority for independent voters. Most now rate health care reform and government spending as more pressing matters.
It's not actually clear that tax breaks ever were the most important priority for many Americans. It's often been the case that survey respondents would say they support tax breaks and oppose tax increases generally. But when asked whether they would prefer an improvement in health care, education or some other public service or a tax cut, most choose the improvement in public services. Support for public services has probably increased in recent years. A recent poll shows that two thirds of Americans support universal healthcare even if it means a tax increase. (Perhaps this is because many people realize that what they pay in taxes for healthcare may very well be less than what they pay now under our health care system, which is less efficient than that of almost every other developed country).The Roll Call story does imply that there is polling to show that independent voters have some vague sense that government spending is too high, but we suspect that as with taxes, respondents would answer very differently when presented with choices about the actual government programs that cost the most money. About a fifth of federal spending goes toward healthcare, another fifth toward Social Security, and another fifth toward defense. That means most federal spending goes towards things most Americans support. Another nine percent goes toward paying the interest on the national debt, which the Bush administration has actively increased, largely with tax breaks.
Americans express very different views when they are confronted with the trade-offs involved when vague calls for "smaller government" are turned into specific legislative plans to cut services. For example, the previous Congress's efforts to slash Medicaid and other federal services didn't seem to win it many supporters. Conservative politicians have in the past been able to appeal to voters by offering stark choices between "small government" and "large government" or between "lower taxes" and "higher taxes" but they find it difficult to get Americans to agree on specific services to cut rather than expand.