Are Tax Cuts Supporters Self-Interested and/or Partisan? The Case of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

Date01 May 2022
Published date01 May 2022
Subject MatterArticles
2022, Vol. 50(3) 416 –427
American Politics Research
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1532673X211041147
In late 2017, the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act ignited
concerns about economic and political inequality (Bartels,
2017; Hacker & Pierson, 2017). The law’s main objective
was to reduce the tax burdens of corporations and wealthy
individuals (Gale et al., 2018). The ensuing “massive tax
relief” (The White House, 2017) proved popular with the
Republican base, but not so much with the rest of the country
(Newport, 2019; Williamson, 2018). Still, around 40% of
voters favored a reform that primarily benefited the top 1%
(Scott & Chang, 2017). Why did so many people approve of
a policy from which they stood very little to gain?
Despite rising levels of inequality—and public discon-
tent with inequality—political support for redistributive
policy remains stagnant (Bartels, 2008; Erikson, 2015;
Scheve & Stasavage, 2016). In the past two decades, citi-
zens have tended to reject progressive taxation (Boudreau
& MacKenzie, 2018; Franko et al., 2013) and even
embrace regressive tax reforms (Bartels, 2005; Krupnikov
et al., 2006; Lupia et al., 2007; Slemrod, 2006). This is
puzzling, as research on fiscal policy preferences shows
widespread support for the principles of tax fairness and
progressivity (Ballard-Rosa et al., 2017; Stantcheva,
2020) as well as redistributive programs targeting the
poor (Piston, 2018).
In this article, we elucidate public opinion about the Tax
Cuts and Jobs Act by bridging self-interest and partisanship,
two complementary sources of influence.1 We show that
personal financial considerations shape support for the tax
cuts, but only among Republicans. Furthermore, a third fac-
tor, political sophistication, produces two opposite patterns
of heterogeneity. Our analyses leverage the 2018 Cooperative
Congressional Election Study and a policy-focused measure
of public support for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. We also
replicate our results using alternative measures of approval
from two separate electoral studies conducted after the 2018
midterm elections. This allows us to validate our hypotheses
on more than one dataset and with conceptually distinct
measures of public opinion, ensuring the robustness of our
The rest of this paper is structured as follows. We first
provide background on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and its
distributional impact. We then present the literature on pub-
lic preferences for tax policy, before developing hypotheses
APRXXX10.1177/1532673X211041147American Politics ResearchMendoza Aviña and Blais
1University of Montreal, QC, Canada
Corresponding Author:
Marco Mendoza Aviña, University of Montreal, 3150 Rue Jean-Brillant,
Pavillon Lionel-Groulx, Montreal, QC H3T 1N8, Canada.
Are Tax Cuts Supporters Self-Interested
and/or Partisan? The Case of the
Tax Cuts and Jobs Act
Marco Mendoza Aviña1 and André Blais1
In late 2017, the first unified Republican government in 15 years enacted the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which cut taxes
for corporations and the wealthy. Why did so many citizens support a policy that primarily benefited people richer than
them? The self-interest hypothesis holds that individuals act upon the position they occupy in the income distribution:
richer (poorer) taxpayers should favor (oppose) regressive policy. Associations between income and policy preferences are
often inconsistent, however, suggesting that many citizens fail to connect their self-interest to taxation. Indeed, political
psychologists have shown compellingly that citizens can be guided by partisan considerations not necessarily aligned with
their own interests. This article assesses public support for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. Using data from the 2018
Cooperative Congressional Election Study as well as contemporaneous ANES and VOTER surveys to replicate our analyses,
we show that self-interest and partisanship both come into play, but that partisanship matters more. Personal financial
considerations, while less influential than party identification, are relevant for two groups of individuals: Republicans and the
politically unsophisticated.
Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, self-interest, partisanship, political sophistication, public opinion

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