Public Consultation Finds Strong Bipartisan Support for Extending Employees’ Payroll Tax Cut

Public Consultation Finds Strong Bipartisan Support for Extending Employees’ Payroll Tax Cut

December 13, 2011

But Partisan Division on How to Pay for It

Modest Support for Employer’s Payroll Tax Cut

Full report(PDF)
Questionnaire with Findings (PDF)

When a representative sample of Americans was presented a detailed explanation of the costs and potential benefits of extending the payroll tax cut for employees, including strongly stated arguments for and against the idea, 68% favored the idea. This included 65% of Republicans as well as 74% of Democrats.

There were, however, partisan divisions on how to pay for the tax cut. While overall 56% preferred a higher tax on earnings above $1 million, including three in four Democrats and a majority of independents supported a higher tax, three-fifths of Republicans preferred reducing the federal workforce and lengthening the freeze on its pay.

The study was conducted by the Program for Public Consultation, a joint program of the Center on Policy Attitudes and the School of Public Affairs at the University of Maryland. “Public consultation” seeks to reveal how the public responds when it hears the kind of information and arguments that policymakers hear when making decisions, thus eliciting a clearer presentation of the public’s values.

Respondents were told that extending the payroll tax cut for employees, and reducing it to 3.1%, would reduce projected government revenue by $175 billion for the year and that the Congressional Budget Office estimates that it would add 350,000 to 1,225,000 jobs.

Respondents were also presented and asked to evaluate pro and con arguments. The pro argument stated that “A payroll tax cut puts money in the pockets of people who are then spending it at businesses, large and small. That gives them more customers, increases demand, and it gives businesses a greater incentive to hire.” It was found convincing by 70%.

However, the con argument was also found convincing by 65% . It went, “Because so many people feel economically vulnerable right now, a payroll tax cut for employees is not going to create much economic activity. People will mostly pay debts or save the money.”

As mentioned, two thirds or more of both parties ultimately came down in favor of the payroll tax cut for employees.

However, support was lower for such a payroll tax cut for employers. After being briefed on the idea and evaluating pro and con arguments for the sample overall, a slight majority of 51% favored it, but 46% were opposed. Curiously, majorities of both Republicans (57%) and Democrats (52%) favored it, but this was offset by a much lower level of support (43%) among independents.

As part of the briefing respondents were first told about how the reduction of the payroll tax cut from 6.2 to 3.1% would only apply to the first $5 million of payroll (thus primarily helping small business), that government revenue would be lowered by $65 billion and that jobs are estimated to increase by 350-850,000.

Two thirds found convincing the pro argument that focused on the economic logic of the proposal and the idea that smaller businesses would primarily benefit. The con argument raised the possibility that employer behavior would not respond to a payroll tax cut in the way policymakers intended. This was also found convincing by two thirds. Partisan differences were minor.

The poll was fielded from December 3 to 9, 2011 as part of a larger study with a sample of 907 adult Americans. Each section was partially sampled, however, so the sample size was 565 for each question released. Thus, with a design effect of 1.6431, the margin of error was 5.3%. Please contact PPC if you would like a detailed sample design.

The poll was conducted using the web-enabled KnowledgePanel®, a probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. Initially, participants are chosen scientifically by a random selection of telephone numbers and residential addresses. Persons in selected households are then invited by telephone or by mail to participate in the web-enabled KnowledgePanel®. For those who agree to participate, but do not already have Internet access, Knowledge Networks provides a laptop and ISP connection. More technical information is available at


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