December 2, 2010
To: Interested Parties
Fr: John Anzalone / Matt Hogan
Re: Tax Cut Debate Offers Democrats Opportunity to Regain Momentum
It was certainly a rough November for Democrats, but the brewing battle over tax cuts is a fight
that the party should welcome, as it offers Democrats a great opportunity to bounce back. By opposing
a permanent extension of the tax cuts on income over $250,000, Democrats can not only put themselves
on the side of the overwhelming majority of Americans, but also address two problem areas that plagued
the party in the most recent election: their decline in support among Independents and a lack of trust in
their commitment to reduce the deficit. This memo lays out why the tax cut debate has the potential to
be a pivotal one for Democrats, and also offers messaging recommendations based on recent national
polling conducted by Anzalone Liszt Research.
Republicans at Odds with Public on Permanent Extension
By insisting on a permanent extension of the tax cuts for those earning over $250,000,
Republicans are putting themselves at odds with about two-thirds of the public. A CNN poll released
last week shows that 64% percent of Americans and 61% of Independents oppose extending the Bush
tax cuts on income of $250,000 or more.i Our own polling also found little support for a permanent
extension of tax cuts for those earning over $250,000, with just 33% of 2012 likely voters supporting
permanent extension, compared to 59% who favored either ending them or extending them for just one
Not only does opposing permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthy put Democrats on
the side of most voters, it also allows them to cast themselves as the party that is serious about reducing
the deficit, the issue that was cited by a plurality of voters in exit polls as the top priority for Congress.
While both parties claim that they want to reduce the deficit, Democrats can show that they are the only
party backing up their words with actions. By favoring tax cuts over deficit reduction, Republicans are
again putting themselves at odds with the public, as an Ipsos/Reuters poll found that Americans favor
deficit reduction over cutting taxes generally by an 11-point margin (54% to 43%)iii. If the question was
posed as a choice between reducing the deficit and lowering taxes only for those earning over $250,000,
we are confident that the percentage preferring deficit reduction would be much larger.
Messaging Recommendations Going Forward
Though this debate is already favorable for Democrats, our recent polling reveals that framing it
as a choice between extending the tax cuts for the wealthy or using the money instead to help small
businesses create jobs and reduce the deficit puts Democrats in the strongest position to win.iv
Instead of spending seven hundred billion on tax cuts for the wealthy, we should use part of
the money to help small businesses create jobs, and use the rest to pay down the deficit.
Other Effective Messages
We are already facing record deficits, but continuing these tax cuts for the wealthy would
increase the deficit by over seven hundred billion dollars, which [would significantly
increase the financial burden on our children and grandchildren.] OR [we would have to
pay for by borrowing even more money from China.]
Continuing these tax cuts for the wealthy would give millionaires a tax cut of over one
hundred thousand dollars a year. We simply can’t afford to give millionaires such a big tax
We tested twelve messages on why the tax cuts for those earning $250,000 or more should end
and the top message above emerged as most effective both among voters overall and with Independents,
as 77% of likely voters found it to be a convincing reason to end those tax breaks, including 46% who
found it to be very convincing.
This message is effective because it not only prioritizes deficit reduction over tax cuts for the
wealthy, but also because it addresses unemployment by calling for the recommendation that we hear
most frequently from voters in focus groups on what can be done to create jobs: do more to help small
We believe that this trade-off is the most effective message to increase support for ending the tax
cuts on income of $250,000 or more, but when possible, we believe that this message could be made
even stronger by adding a contrast that links the Republican position to increasing the burden on future
generations and forcing the United States to borrow even more money from China. Messages including
these points also tested very well, and together they were cited by a plurality of voters as the best reason
to end the tax cuts for the wealthy. Highlighting these points could therefore help to seriously
undermine Republican attempts to establish themselves as the party of fiscal responsibility.
Republicans want to extend tax cuts for the wealthy, which will increase the deficit by 700
billion dollars, increasing the burden on our children and grandchildren and forcing us to
borrow even more money from China. We simply can’t afford that.
Instead of spending seven hundred billion on tax cuts for the wealthy, we should use part
of the money to help small businesses create jobs, and use the rest to pay down the deficit.
Democrats took a beating this past month, but the tax cut debate offers a real chance to regain
some momentum. By supporting tax cuts for the middle class but opposing the permanent extension of
the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, the party will be siding with the vast majority of voters and
Independents. Additionally, this will demonstrate that while both parties might talk about reducing the
deficit, Democrats are the only ones backing up their words with actions. This debate represents a major
opportunity for Democrats, and the party cannot afford to put it off – or let it slip away.
CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll conducted November 11-14, 2010 of 1,014 adults. Margin of error +/- 3%
Anzalone Liszt Research poll conducted November 12-17, 2010 of 800 2012 likely voters. Margin of error +/- 3.5%
Ipsos/Reuters Poll conducted August 19-22, 2010 of 1,063 adults. Margin of error +/- 3%
Anzalone Liszt Research November 12-17, 2010 poll