Frank Luntz and Luntz Global Partners
November 15, 2017
Priorities are crystallizing. As the first year of President Trump’s administration nears its end, Congress has turned its attention away from the health care, regulatory, and judicial appointment battles of the summer to focus their efforts on the first major tax reform bill in over 30 years.
Republican leaders have sent mixed messages on their precise policy agenda, but one theme is clear: Tax cuts are necessary and needed by year’s end.
It won’t be easy. Meeting this deadline while convincingly communicating the benefits of tax reform to a skeptical and divided nation will require discipline, mutual trust and cooperation. All are at a premium in 2017. But our research was clear; the American people are ready and willing to support a tax reform bill that results in simpler, fairer, and lower rates for individuals, families, and business alike. The question is – will Congress respond?
Below are the FIVE key takeaways from this research that should inform and guide the communication around tax reforms – for members of Congress, administration officials, and independent activists. Advocates of tax reform must employ one clear, credible message that all Americans can rally behind – a message built on simplifying our broken tax code, returning money to the people who earned it, and above all, respecting and rewarding hardworking taxpayers.
1) Acknowledge the problem – Our tax code is BROKEN. Disagreements on how best to reform our tax code are unavoidable. However, we can all agree on one essential fact, the tax code we have today is broken. By acknowledging there’s a problem, you’re speaking to a near-universally shared belief that embraces age, region, and political party. When we can all agree there’s a problem, then inaction becomes unacceptable.
2) PERSONALIZE the consequences of NOT changing. Because of the bitterness of the divide, it is not enough to simply spell out what you want to do – you must talk about what happens if we do NOTHING. Yes, our broken tax code hurts Americans businesses by making them less competitive in the global marketplace. Yes, it hurts our economy by stifling growth. But, most importantly, our broken tax code takes more and more from middle and lower class taxpayers, forcing them to do more with less, and punishing hard work and entrepreneurism.
Focus first and foremost on the consequences that inaction will have on hardworking taxpayers, and you’ll be positioned to effectively communicate the need for tax reform with the largest number of Americans.
WORDS THAT WORK
For too long, hardworking taxpayers have been forced to do more with less because of our broken tax system. It’s not right. We need meaningful tax reform and measurable tax cuts that close loopholes and let all Americans keep more of what they earn. Thanks to ending the loopholes, every hardworking taxpayer will pay less and every small business will pay less.
3) Their most powerful argument against you: Tax cuts for the rich. Opponents of tax reform will inevitably point out that the richest Americans will yield the most amount of value from tax reform. Whether it’s true or not, this perception will be hammered again and again throughout this debate. Nonetheless, it is becoming a tired trope; you can respond, and you must.
Counter these concerns by pointing out that the alternative – maintaining the failed status quo – is unacceptable and only continues to do more harm to middle-class Americans. This tax reform is targeted towards middle-income taxpayers but everybody will see their tax burden reduced, leading to greater growth and opportunity for ALL Americans.
WORDS THAT WORK
It’s simply not good enough to oppose tax reform, without proposing alternative solutions. The future success of America will depend not just on having taxes that are lower than our competitors – but that are more efficient and effective too.
The last time we reformed the tax system was over 30 years ago, and that led to the U.S. leading a worldwide explosion of growth and jobs – we need the same, today.
4) Most Americans SUPPORT repealing the Death Tax. Democratic objections to repealing the Death Tax may seem rooted in their argument against tax cuts for the rich, but it’s a fatal miscalculation on their part. The more people talk about and consider the Death Tax – everything from the grave impact it has on family business and farms to the uncertain, declining revenue from the tax – the more they oppose it. You should not make the Death Tax Repeal the main reason for passing tax reform, but remember that its inclusion makes the bill STRONGER, not weaker.
5) Repealing the Death Tax is a matter of fairness. American opinions on the Death Tax are not founded not on the efficacy of the policy, but on the values the policy is built on. This is a universal principal to remember. As a double or triple taxation the Death Tax is fundamentally unfair. And for a plurality of Americans, its activation at the time of death is unseemly at best, immoral at worst.
In the context of 2017 tax reform efforts, don’t begin by citing line items or lost jobs. Follow Rep. Kristi Noem’s lead in showing how to personalize and humanize the impact the Death Tax has on families, farms, and future generations.
WORDS THAT WORK
The Death Tax is an unfair, immoral tax on some families for no other reason than their mother and father died, and the government believes it’s more entitled to their inheritance than their children and grandchildren. Death should not be a taxable event.
We conducted a single, swing voter dial session in Southern California on Monday, October 30th to ask voters their perceptions, priorities, and expectations regarding the 2017 proposed tax reform legislation, The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. We tested the proposals and language featured on the House Ways and Means website as well as public statements by President Trump, congressional Republicans, and leading Democratic members and leaders. The group was comprised of 27 registered California voters. There were 14 men and 17 women with an even spread of conservative and liberal leanings.