Donald trump
Credit: White House/Flickr

The Democrats have launched a new initiative aimed at doing a better job of understanding where the public is on a variety of controversial issues so that they can do a better job of crafting their political messaging. It’s useful research because it reveals which topics have real salience and which ones don’t really “move the needle.” For one example, voters don’t really mind that Trump is using the presidency to add revenue to his various businesses and they’re not very receptive to the idea that he’s lazy, golfs too much and is too disengaged. On the other hand, they are alarmed that he doesn’t read his daily intelligence briefings. That’s the kind of nuance that can be gleaned by careful survey research.

One thing the pollsters have discovered is that the tax bill is unpopular, and the strongest argument against it is the idea that it was designed not based on sound policy or because it’s consistent with conservative ideology and goals, but simply to pay back the party’s biggest donors.

One key difference the research found is voters are more receptive to the argument that Republicans are likelier to use government to personally enrich themselves and their wealthy donors. “They actually don’t think the tax plan was done for policy reasons,” Pollock said. “They don’t even think it was done for ideological reasons. They think it was done for purely dirty campaign reasons.”

Since the public already believes this, messaging around it is comparatively easy. And since the polling took place while the nation was doing its taxes, the tax bill should have been enjoying a high point in popularity. People ought to have discovered some extra, perhaps unexpected, cash in their pockets. But the tax law has been losing support rapidly in recent weeks. A lot of congressional Republicans are blaming the president for going off message in March by talking about tariffs and trade wars rather then continuing to tout the supposed benefits of their only legislative accomplishment of the last year.

A sense of foreboding is growing on the right. Candidates up for reelection are realizing that their biggest success is polling underwater and is becoming something they’re more apt to need to defend than use as a rationale for another term in office.

It’s an old Karl Rove trick to attack your opponent’s greatest strength, and in this case the tax bill isn’t turning out to be a strength at all. The GOP is going to try to turn that around, but it won’t be easy with a distracted president and the Democrats’ hammering them for doing the bidding of their mega-donors.

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Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at