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Marketplace Tech

Tax cut for the rich or payday for the middle class? The battle to win the messaging war

Reema Khrais Sep 27, 2017
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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks to the press about tax reform in Washington, D.C., in August.
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

All the details behind the new tax plan released Wednesday may not be out yet, but Republicans, Democrats and lobbyists are already finding ways to frame it to the public.

On the White House’s website, you can find a neat 45-second video explaining just why Americans need tax reform. The text reads that tax reform is pro-jobs, pro-worker, pro-American. Sound familiar?

“You see a lot of the same ‘U.S. first’ and ‘U.S. workers first’ type messaging that Donald Trump pushed during his presidential campaign,” said Robb Willer, a sociology professor at Stanford University.

Because the tax code is so wonky, Republicans are also focused on keeping the messaging simple, said Kathleen Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

“A lot of people are going to hear that this is good for me,” Jamieson said. “There are benefits here.”

Meanwhile, she said the Democrats’ message will sound more like this: “Tax breaks for the wealthy, no real tax reform that’s meaningful and [it’ll] balloon the deficit.”

The parties will also choose different words to talk about the same thing, Jamison said. When you look at the text of the plan, there’s a line that says the death tax will be repealed, which is a tax levied on people with estates worth more than $5.49 million. Most Democrats refer to it as an estate tax. 

“There’s an instance in which very effective framing — death tax as opposed to estate tax — increases the likelihood that people say, ‘Right, you should get rid of that,’” Jamieson said.

Willer said his research shows that many people trust the messaging of their party; they don’t go through the trouble of fact-checking claims and digging through the kind of data often reserved for policy wonks and institutes.

“People’s acceptance of a given framing is determined to a great extent by their partisanship, maybe their perception of their economic interest,” he said.

As we get closer to a vote in Congress, you can expect all the messages — and responses to them — to only get louder. 

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