POLITICS
02/28/2018 03:01 pm ET

Americans Ask What The Tax Law Does For The Country, Not What It Does For Them

A new poll finds people are half as likely to have heard about corporate share buybacks as bonuses for workers.
Yuri Gripas / Reuters

WASHINGTON ― Republicans say their tax agenda is becoming more popular because people are seeing bigger paychecks and Corporate America has been dishing out bonuses.

Attitudes toward the law, which passed with historic unpopularity, have seen an uptick, with most recent polls finding the public more or less evenly divided on its merits.

HuffPost graphic via Datawrapper

But while many Americans have heard stories of others receiving bonuses, a new HuffPost/YouGov survey finds, relatively few have seen such benefits themselves. And, whether they like or hate the law, most say they base their opinions on its effect on the country, rather than the impact they’ve personally seen.

Among supporters of the tax law, 77 percent say they back it at least in part because they believe it’ll benefit the country as a whole, and just 30 percent that they favor it because they’ll personally benefit (respondents were allowed to select both ― or neither ― options). Among the law’s opponents, 76 percent credit their objections to concerns that it’s bad for the nation, and only 26 percent to worries that they themselves will be adversely affected.

People, of course, may prefer to paint themselves as concerned with the welfare of the nation than just their own pocketbook. But other questions in the survey similarly find Americans more likely to have heard about the tax law’s benefits to the public at large than to say they’ve profited from it.

About a quarter of those polled say they’ve received a paycheck increase ― but  just 5 percent report that their paycheck has increased “a lot,” rather than just a little. Seven percent of those polled say they’ve received a bonus.

More than 80 percent of households should benefit from lower federal income taxes this year, according to the independent Tax Policy Center. Since individuals’ federal income tax is withheld from paychecks by their employers, lower tax rates should mean less withholding, and therefore more take-home pay for most people. The Internal Revenue Service put out new withholding tables for employers earlier this year, saying employers should adjust paychecks accordingly by Feb. 15.

Hundreds of companies have announced one-time bonuses as a result of the law, according to a Republican tally. While few survey respondents said they’d received a bonus themselves, more than half of those polled say they’ve seen news stories about people receiving bonuses or increased paychecks as a result of the tax law. Nearly half say that they believe some or most workers have seen an increased paycheck, and 35 percent that they think some or most have gotten a bonus.

The new law’s core provision slashed the corporate tax rate to 21 percent from 35 percent, saving corporations an estimated $100 billion this year. During the debate over the legislation late last year, Democrats said companies would lavish their tax windfall on shareholders, while Republicans insisted workers would benefit.

Republicans have claimed vindication from all the stories about bonuses, saying workers have received more than $3 billion in extra pay so far. But the value of share buybacks has vastly exceeded the sum of bonuses. According to Senate Democrats’ count, companies have announced more than $200 billion worth of share repurchases so far this year.

Share buybacks aren’t the kind of capital investment that makes workers more productive, which in turn potentially increases wages. Rather, buybacks inflate the value of shares, which are overwhelmingly owned by the richest people in America and make up a large portion of CEO compensation.

Just a quarter of survey respondents said they’ve heard stories about companies buying back shares of their own stock ― meaning people were more than twice as likely to have seen news about bonuses.

In the poll, wealthier Americans are likelier to support the tax law than poorer ones, and they’re also likelier to believe it will have broad positive effects on the country, as well as to say that they’ve seen a paycheck increase of their own.

But, as is often the case, many of the starkest divides are political, not economic.

While Americans in households making $100,000 or more annually are 21 percentage points likelier than those making under $50,000 to back the tax law, Donald Trump voters are 72 points likelier than Hillary Clinton voters to support it. While the highest-earning Americans are 20 points likelier than the lowest-earning to say most workers saw a benefit to their paychecks, the gap between Trump and Clinton voters is 46 points.

Use the widget below to further explore the results of the HuffPost/YouGov survey, using the menu at the top to select survey questions and the buttons at the bottom to filter the data by subgroups:

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted Feb. 22-24  among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

HuffPost has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.

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