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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Exit the Tax Issue

It’s obvious that John McCain tried to make Barack Obama’s tax policies the decisive issue–with large undertones of racial politics at or just under the surface–down the homestretch of the campaign. So what do the exit polls tell us about the impact of his argument that Obama wanted to raise taxes on many if not most middle-class Americans?
Well, asked if “your taxes will go up if Obama wins,” 71% of voters said “yes,” even though Obama argued that only 5% of Americans would be exposed to a tax increase under his plan. So McCain succeeded brilliantly on this issue, right? Well, not so much, since 61% of voters said their taxes would go up if the Republican won. And among those expecting a tax increase under an Obama administration, McCain only won by a relatively modest 53-44 margin.
There are all sorts of ways to interpret these findings. Maybe McCain got purchase with his claims that Obama had supported tax increases on the middle class in some obscure budget resolution vote. Maybe Obama’s hammering of McCain for wanting to tax employer-provider health care benefits had a big effect. Maybe voters cynically believed that all politicians secretly want to raise their taxes. Or maybe they thought conditions in the country would require tax increases.
But in any event, it’s reasonably clear that the tax issue, and all the racially loaded Joe the Plumber folderol that accompanied it, was not any sort of potential, much less actual, game-changer for the McCain-Palin ticket. Many millions of Americans bought the supposedly toxic idea that their taxes might go up if Obama won, and either didn’t care, or figured it wasn’t really a distinguishing issue between the two candidates.

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