Opinion Columns & Blogs

Tax reform doesn’t have the pizzazz it once did

It’s mid-April, and Karlyn Bowman — the astute public opinion analyst at the American Enterprise Institute — has noticed something significant. Tax Day “comes and goes without a ripple,” she recently wrote. There’s not much fuss.

Discontent with the income tax has ebbed. To buttress the point, Bowman cited intriguing survey data. A recent Gallup Poll found that only 1 percent of Americans rated taxes the nation’s top problem. In a Pew poll, respondents ranked “reforming” the tax system 16th out of 24 problems. Indeed, Gallup reports that roughly half of Americans think their income-tax burden is about right.

Of course, the other half of Americans think their burden is too high. But that’s down from about 70 percent in some earlier years. What explains the mood shift? Here are four explanations.

The implications? For Republicans, the political punch of income-tax cuts is less powerful, because the benefits would go mainly to a relatively small segment of the electorate — upscale taxpayers. And “tax reform” is a long shot: Too many constituencies have a stake in the existing system.