PA-18: Lamb Wins, GOP Tax Plan Loses

IMG_0541 by Media Arts Department Robert Morris University is licensed under CC0 1.0

Shortly after the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) in December, the Congressional Leadership Fund, a Super PAC dedicated to electing Republicans to the US House of Representatives, commissioned surveys in 69 pivotal congressional districts. The key finding was not entirely unexpected:

“Republican incumbents have many areas where they can improve their standing within their districts, and public and private polling shows the recent tax reform legislation is the key to doing so…leading up to the election, Republicans need to communicate the benefits of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. If and when we are able to show voters that this legislation cuts middle-class tax cuts, we will be able to point to a huge accomplishment members can run on.”

It was entirely predictable that the GOP would plan to run on the tax reform bill as a major accomplishment, and that they would attempt to garner votes from it’s passage. But what we saw in PA-18 proves that the American people are not so easily fooled.

GOP groups initially spent $2.5 million on ads promoting Saccone (Lamb’s opponent) support for TCJA, but in the weeks leading up to the election they completely abandoned that message. Here’s a timeline from PoliticoPro & Advertising Analytics that shows the GOP shying away from messaging TCJA:

  • During the first half of February: 2/3 of broadcast television ads from Saccone, the Congressional Leadership Fund, and the NRCC mention taxes;
  • Third week of February: The proportion of broadcast television ads referencing taxes drops to 36%;
  • Last week of February: The proportion of broadcast television ads referencing taxes drops to 14%;
  • March: Ads mentioning TCJA are almost nonexistent. One played on air, and one played on radio.

Here’s the problem for the GOP: In February, the TCJA began to take effect, and that effect was far from what was promised. The GOP spent most of their campaign promising that the tax cuts in this massive rewrite were all going to regular everyday Americans. But at most, Americans only saw a very modest tax cut, and they aren’t ready to laud the GOP for it. Remember that now infamous tweet from Speaker of the House Paul Ryan in early February:

“A secretary at a public high school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, said she was pleasantly surprised her pay went up by $1.50 a week…she said that will more than cover her Costco membership for they year.”

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