Apr 11, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden pollster urges blunt tax talk

Illustration of a magnet attracting gold bars.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The top pollster for Joe Biden's presidential campaign is advising the White House to do something that often makes Democrats nervous: Talk loudly and proudly about raising taxes on the rich.

Why it matters: John Anzalone tells Axios his extensive polling and research has found that few issues receive broader support than raising taxes on corporations and people earning more than $400,000 a year.

  • Anzalone's view — which he pushed during the campaign, and which the new president's inner circle seems to share — is that Biden should go on offense on tax hikes.
  • He should make raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations a standout feature of his messaging, rather than a necessary evil to fund his $3 trillion-plus spending plans, Anzalone argues.
  • This could immunize Biden from GOP attacks, boost his popularity and help congressional Democrats, he says.

Between the lines: "Democrats, in general, are afraid of the tax issue and we let the Republicans brand us as wanting to raise middle-class taxes," Anzalone tells Axios. 

  • "It's a mistake because we can take control of the tax narrative like we did in the Biden campaign — which was to say, 'No, that's not true, your taxes aren't going to increase, it's only those who are making over $400,000 and big corporations, who haven't been paying their fair share of taxes over the years.'"
  • That quick pivot to "tax fairness"— which Biden's team used every time the Trump campaign hammered him on taxes — served Biden well.

Anzalone says Republicans will brand Democrats as "tax increasers" regardless of what they do, so they would be best served by framing the tax debate themselves.

  • "The middle class is tired of carrying the tax burden for the country," he said. "They are pissed off. They aren't anti-rich or anti-corporate. They are anti-not paying your fair share."
  • He said voters "know the rich and big corporations have the power, accountants, lawyers and tax law on their side to avoid paying their fair share" and "they just want those holes plugged and a fair rate so the country can make investments in the economy, health care and education."

By the numbers: Poll after poll after poll after poll support Anzalone's analysis.

  • A November New York Times / Survey Monkey poll found "two-thirds of Americans (67%) support raising taxes on those making $400,000 or more," including "70% of independents and nearly half of Republicans and GOP leaners (45%)."

The big picture: Biden has already proposed raising the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%. He hasn't announced his individual tax proposal, but during the campaign he proposed raising the top individual tax rate for incomes above $400,000 from 37% to 39.6%.

  • That would restore it to where it was before President Trump successfully cut it in 2017.
  • It's unclear whether Biden will raise taxes for married couples making more than $400,000 or whether it will just be individuals, but Anzalone says "we test it a lot of different ways and it doesn't change the numbers."
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