But when the question turns to reducing the national debt through taxes, the poll numbers change. Are Americans less averse to taxation as they were a decade ago? The answer may have to do with younger voters.
On April 18, 2011, Gallup showed that over 50 percent of Americans say that their tax rates were fair. Gallup reports that while around 65 percent of people felt they were taxed too high in 2001, that number has dropped. This means there is less anger about individual taxation right now than there was 12 years ago. If you work at the White House, you like the sound of this.
Bill Clinton raised taxes in his first term and he paid a price for it. But Clinton bounced back in 1996 and was re-elected. Can a Republican get traction with the tax issue against Obama? It is always great to be the candidate who has not raised taxes, going up against the guy who wants to hike them.
Reagan campaigned against tax hikes and won. Both Bushes did the same and won. Bob Dole and John John McCain, however, could not convince Americans that the tax issue was big enough. Now, in 2011, Gallup is telling us that there is a growing number of Americans who are not so hostile to tax increases for corporations or the very wealthy. This means the GOP might have to adopt a different strategy.
One could suggest that the 2010 midterm elections were all about taxes, and therefore the public is very dissatisfied with the current federal tax code, regardless of polls. That might be flawed logic.
The 2010 midterm elections were about a general dissatisfaction with Obama, health care, some tax issues, and the general difficulty at the midway point for all incumbent presidents. The year 2010 was not solely about taxes, and if it were, it may not have been such a landslide.
The change in the attitude toward taxation might be explained by the changing demography of the voter base. Younger voters are not as averse to taxes, especially when the argument is housed in deficit reduction.
However, the idea of raising taxes to create government programs is still not popular with most Americans. I am now forty years old, and my contemporaries seem somewhat mixed when it comes to the tax issue. Drop down to the millennial generation (those born after 1980), and the issue of taxes is not really a priority...and there you have what the White House is banking on in 2012.
The president’s popularity rating is not great, but it is where most re-elected presidents were at this point in their first term. It means that he is vulnerable, but by no means is he the underdog. Talks of the left abandoning the president are ludicrous. They might not be thrilled with his last three years, but he is still their guy.
Assuming the GOP nominee is Mitt Romney, he will have to rein in the right on his side. This could happen once the Herman Cain juggernaut slows down. Cain’s 9-9-9 Tax Plan might sound good, and it may have a future, but he does not.
Congress, even with Cain as president, would not buy into that plan. As Robert A. Green wrote in Forbes last week, the plan has merits in its simplification of the code, but it will also have too many enemies.
When the two nominees are clear, the issue of taxes will emerge. If the economy is creeping back to life, the president will be right where Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were in the years before they were re-elected. If the unemployment level is still high, and Obama cannot get traction with Congress, it will be interesting to see. This race is going to be closer than most people think.