| May 3, 2012
Oklahomans Embrace Income-Tax Cuts, Spending Cuts
By a better than two-to-one margin, Oklahomans favor cutting the state income tax to 4.75 percent.
Most significant groups top 50 percent in their support. Cutting the income tax is supported by men (52 percent favor vs. 25 percent oppose) and women (51 percent favor vs. 22 percent oppose).
It is supported by urban residents (53 percent favor vs. 24 percent oppose) and rural denizens (52 percent favor vs. 24 percent oppose).
Even among those Democrats with a favorable opinion of Barack Obama, 44 percent favor cutting the income tax while 32 percent oppose doing so.
In contrast to what is often seen with income taxes, upper-income voters in the state do not expand their support as much as one might expect. In fact, a larger percentage of voters making less than $40,000 a year support this cut (53 percent favor) than is the case for those making more than $80,000 a year (51 percent favor).
Most swing groups support cutting the income tax to below 5 percent. These include those currently undecided in an Obama versus Romney presidential contest (54 percent favor vs. 24 percent oppose), those undecided on the generic legislative ballot (49 percent favor vs. 32 percent oppose), and those Democrats with an unfavorable impression of Obama (55 percent favor vs. 26 percent oppose). Given the huge advantage we expect Republicans to have in the 2012 general election, perhaps more important is how supportive Republican primary voters (56 percent favor), evangelicals (58 percent favor), and strong conservatives (54 percent) are of this measure.
Interestingly, there is not a large partisan difference—as Republicans are only slightly more supportive (56 percent favor vs. 21 percent oppose) than are registered Democrats (50 percent favor vs. 27 percent oppose).
Those who identify themselves as either Tea Party members (50 percent favor vs. 28 percent oppose) or Tea Party supporters (57 percent favor vs. 17 percent oppose) do not show the unbridled support one might expect. The conclusion should not be that they oppose cutting the income tax, but rather that the cut to 4.75 percent is not enough! A closer examination of the data reveals that any Republican facing a primary challenge will have more risk opposing a tax cut than these topline numbers indicate at first glance.
The reason this claim can be made is that conservative groups, which constitute a greater percentage of primary voters, favor a 10-year phaseout of the state income tax at a more substantial rate than they favor cutting it to 4.75 percent. For example, 78 percent of those who consider themselves Tea Party members support total elimination, with only 6 percent opposed. Similarly, 61 percent of Republican primary voters support elimination—up 5 points in the percentage that support the modest cut. Furthermore, more “strong conservatives” favor a 10-year elimination than favor the cut, as is also the case with evangelicals (58 percent support cutting; 64 percent support phaseout).
Overall, a slight majority of Oklahomans favor a 10-year phaseout (51 percent favor vs. 30 percent oppose). On this aspect, there is a strong relationship between parties, as Republicans are very supportive (62 percent favor vs. 20 percent oppose) and Democrats are evenly split (41 percent favor vs. 39 percent oppose). On this question, we see the more traditional dynamic we expect on income tax in relationship to income. While those earning under $40,000 a year are supportive (49 percent favor vs. 30 percent oppose), among those in households with income in excess of $40,000, support increases to 55 percent. Among those making more than $100,000 a year, support goes to 62 percent, with 40 percent “strongly” favoring the eventual elimination of the income tax.
Although specific programs were not mentioned, voters also demonstrate a desire to cut the size of government and its services. By margins similar to that in support of the tax cut, voters indicate they believe “Oklahoma government is too big and should be cut” (54 percent agree vs. 29 percent disagree). They favor “cutting government programs and services” (57 percent agree vs. 29 percent disagree).
Again, when you get into more details, you start to see a wider partisan division, as 67 percent of Republicans favor cutting government programs and services, while only 47 percent of Democrats hold that view. Even among Democrats, however, a plurality favors cutting government programs and services.
Again, we see the real divide being between those Democrats with an unfavorable impression of the President being much more for cutting (60 percent favor vs. 28 percent oppose) than are those with a favorable impression of Obama (34 percent favor vs. 55 percent oppose). Among anti-Obama Democrats there is actually more supportive intensity for cutting (50 percent strongly favor) than among Republicans (40 percent strongly agree).
When SQ 640 passed more than 20 years ago, some thought Republicans were giving up an electoral issue. This data reveals that is not the case. Taxes and taxation policy are still hot-button issues for voters. Being for smaller government and less taxation is still a basic tenet of the Republican coalition, just as is support for the free market. Republicans now in the majority and governing in the state will be well served to remember and acknowledge this sentiment.
A nationally recognized pollster, Pat McFerron is president of Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates in Oklahoma City.