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Estate Taxes – Are We Homers or Not?

- December 10, 2007

Back in 2003, Larry Bartels, a political scientist at Princeton University, wrote an article in The American Prospect about economic inequality and support for the repeal of the estate tax titled, Unenlightened Self-Interest: The strange appeal of estate-tax repeal. Specifically, Bartels, using the National Election Studies, found that:

[A]lmost 70 percent favored repeal. But even among people with family incomes of less than $50,000 (about half the sample), 66 percent favored repeal. Among those who wanted to spend more money on a variety of federal government programs, 68 percent preferred repeal…Democrats’ efforts to frame the estate-tax debate in terms of reform rather than repeal have had very little impact on public opinion — and very little success in Washington.

However, Robert H. Frank, an economist at the Johnson School of Management at Cornell University, recently wrote an article in the NY Times titled, Reshaping the Debate. Frank asked the Survey Research Institute at Cornell University to conduct two telephone surveys to investigate public attitudes about the Bush administration’s proposal to eliminate the estate tax. Frank finds:

In the first survey, respondents were simply asked whether they favored the proposal. Almost 75 percent said they did. In the second, respondents were first told that lost revenue from eliminating the estate tax would necessitate some combination of raising other taxes, borrowing more money from abroad and further cutbacks in government services. This time, almost 80 percent of respondents favored keeping the estate tax.

Looks like the Democrats may have their frame for the repeal of the estate tax. Let’s see if any of the Democratic nominees decide to use this frame…