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Gallup Vault: 1986 Tax Bill a Legislative Success, PR Failure

In September 1986, as Congress was putting the final touches on a famously bipartisan piece of legislation designed to overhaul the U.S. tax code, only 28% of Americans thought the bill would be beneficial to the U.S. economy. About half as many, 15%, said its effect on the economy would be negative, while 57% didn't think the bill would make much difference or didn't know.

U.S. Expectations for How 1986 Tax Reform Would Affect the Economy
All things considered, do you think the new tax (reform) bill will have a positive effect on the nation's economy, a negative effect, or won't it make much difference one way or the other?
U.S. adults
Positive 28
Negative 15
Not much difference 41
Don't know 16
Gallup, Sept. 13-17, 1986

The 1986 tax plan provided across-the-board tax cuts to individuals and corporations, eliminated many tax loopholes and shrank the number of tax brackets. According to the Sept. 28, 1986, Gallup news release, "The new tax program is expected to remove some 6 million working poor from the federal income tax rolls altogether and to lower tax rates for the vast majority of other taxpayers."

Despite this, Americans were skeptical. Just 18% told Gallup they thought their taxes would decrease under the plan, while 41% expected them to increase. Additionally, nearly as many Americans thought the new tax code would be less fair (20%) as thought it would result in "a fairer distribution of the tax load among all taxpayers" (27%).

At least Americans agreed the plan would simplify their taxes, right? Wrong. Just 19% thought the bill would make it less complicated for them to pay their taxes, while 17% said it would make paying taxes more complicated and 51% said the process would be about the same.

In late September, the bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 292 to 136 and the Senate by 74 to 23, with majorities of Democrats and Republicans in both chambers voting in favor. In signing the bill, Ronald Reagan declared it "not only an historic overhaul of our tax code and a sweeping victory for fairness; it's also the best anti-poverty bill, the best pro-family measure and the best job-creation program ever to come out of the Congress of the United States." Yet, Gallup's final measure of public support for the bill in September 1986 found 39% of Americans approving, 33% disapproving and 29% unsure.

View the original Gallup news release on Americans' support for the 1986 tax bill.

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