The New Politics of Taxation: The Republican Party and Anti-tax Positions

Blessing, Laura, Government - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Milkis, Sidney, Politics, University of Virginia

Our contemporary tax politics constitutes a wholly new politics of taxation. The puzzle that drives this research is to explain the change from the mid-1950s to mid-1970s' “old politics of taxation” (where a balanced budget consensus reigned, and taxes were not highly politicized) to the current “new politics of taxation” (where the opposite is true). Furthermore, the “new” politics shows a different pattern of opposition to taxes than what we have seen in all of previous American history, namely that before one could observe opposition to a specific tax solely by the group who felt ill effects, an opposition that faded if matters were ameliorated. In contrast, currently we see a true “anti-tax” position where Republicans strongly oppose all federal income taxes, regardless of group affiliation. Furthermore, this antipathy is in an ongoing manner that does not reflect changed policy or economic circumstance, seeing tax cuts as advisable in any climate. A party-building explanation, rather than economic or ideological approaches, is what is most useful in discovering the true roots of this change. This inquiry into GOP anti-tax politics is a detailed case study for the larger question of why parties adopt issues. Parties are defined as seeking three things when they select party-building issues: public opinion (leading to electoral advantage), coalitional compatibility (and expansion), and financial advantage. Depending on the degree to which a policy delivers in these respects, different partisan behaviors are expected in different institutional venues and electorally. Using mixed methods, it is shown how GOP anti-tax party-building plays out in the Republican coalition, as well as in Congress and the Presidency, revealing a sharp shift to this position in the late 1970s. Both branches have sets of institutional tools that they have used to further this position. Each of these three chapters includes a developmental arc of three case studies. The anti-tax notion was not initially Republican or conservative, but the Republican Party saw their electoral benefits and seized on them as a powerful coalition builder.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
American Politics, parties, policy, institutions, tax policy, Republican Party
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