“It’s just wrong. The death/estate tax is wrong for one simple reason: death shouldn’t be a taxable offense or action. The very idea of making people struggle to file a tax form at the time of death is immoral and unethical.”  This is the best anti-death tax argument.

The best anti-death tax argument.

After a year-long campaign to demonize the Republican tax legislation as a giveaway to the rich, the results are in. Even though most Americans (87%) saw their taxes decrease because of the legislation, only 26% think they paid less taxes. When asked whether they supported or opposed the overall legislation, the results were decidedly mixed: 48% support and 48% opposed. The GOP gave most people back their money, yet less than half of them said “thank you.” It really was a pathetic example of awful messaging.  This might be one of the issues for the anti-death tax sentiment.

It is therefore not surprising that only 4% consider taxes to be the most important issue facing America right now (#8 on a list of nine issues) and just 11% prioritize additional tax cuts for 2019. Even among Republicans, additional tax cuts rank #9th on a list of 16 different priorities. Tax policy was asked several different ways by several different polls, and the results were always the same: no one cares. To be blunt, there is even less interest in a tax cut now than two years ago – and it wasn’t a burning issue back then.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, the percentage of people who want to raise taxes on the rich is now equal to the percent who want to cut taxes for everyone. The Left has been motivated and activated, and as a result, the War on the Wealthy is alive and gaining strength.

Yet all is not lost. There are several aspects of the Death Tax issues that have never had greater popularity. As I wrote in my presentation to House and Senate leaders:

After decades of demonizing the wealthy for not paying their “fair share” of taxes, the American people still overwhelmingly believe a 40% tax on estates is wrong. It is the principle – that death should not be a taxable event – rather than the economic impact that matters most. And for rate reduction, the principle that no one should pay more than 50% of their income in taxes is the strongest argument.

Consider the following results:

  • Fully 80% of voters (and 73% of Democrats!) believe “death should not result in the highest tax rates of the entire US tax code…taking more than 40% of someone’s wealth just because they died isn’t fair.”
  • A similar 78% (and 67% of Democrats!) believe “death itself should not be a taxable event. Families should not have to pay taxes just because a family member with some wealth died.”
  • Three out of four Americans (74%) believe “it is wrong to force families of wealthy people who die to sell their business or fire their employees just to pay a 40% death tax. The death tax rate should be reduced so that the businesses can continue and employees can keep their jobs after the leader or founder of that business dies.
  • Finally, 70% say “if you have already paid income taxes, capital gains taxes, taxes on interest and other taxes, it is unfair to tax wealthy people just for dying.
    The effective death tax rate on their savings is well over 50%. No one should have to pay over 50% of their savings in taxes.”

These are strong results – as good as we have ever seen. And a clear majority of Democrats join independents and Republicans on all four of these questions. You have won the argument, even though you were unable to win full repeal.

As for 2019, expect a pitched battle on the House side to keep the current exemption. The Democrats are eager to increase spending, and they have already signaled that they will seek to repeal some aspects of the Republican tax law. Just know that public opinion is against them. The results of our final question are pretty clear. When asked whether the death tax should be repealed, or the rate lowered to capital gains, or keep the rate as is…the American people fully reject the status quo:

Full Repeal: 44%
Lower Rate:  41%
Keep As Is:  15%

Even among Democrats, more than three-quarters want either full repeal (36%) or a lower rate (41%). Yes, in polling … and on principle … the Death Tax should die. But in practice … and in politics … the road ahead will be difficult.

– Dr. Frank I. Luntz