Ryan
The 1986 tax reform approved under Ronald Reagan "was polling at about 18 percent right before they passed it."

Paul Ryan on Wednesday, December 13th, 2017 in an interview

Half-True

Paul Ryan claims 1986 tax reform, like the current one, had low public support just before passage

President Ronald Reagan, shown here in January 1986, signed landmark tax reform legislation in October 1986. Comparisons to that legislation are being made to tax bills now before Congress. (Associated Press)

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan says not to worry that polls show most Americans don’t support supporting the historic tax reform he and other Republicans are pushing toward a final vote.

At this stage prior to the last major tax reform, in 1986, the Wisconsin Republican says, support was low, too.

Let’s see if Ryan -- suddenly in the spotlight over whether he might retire -- is right on his history.

Ryan’s claim

Ryan made his claim during a Dec. 13, 2017 interview with Jay Weber, a conservative talk show host on WISN-AM in Milwaukee. Ryan referred to the 1986 reform, signed into law by Republican President Ronald Reagan, during this exchange:

Weber: Are you losing the messaging war, though, with these polls showing half of the country doesn’t like this plan? They clearly don’t understand it.

Ryan: Yeah, I think that’s right. You know, we went back and took solace in this. Gosh, everybody looks at the Reagan tax reform as such a phenomenal success ….And guess what: The thing was polling at about 18 percent right before they passed it.

"Polling at about 18 percent" is a bit vague, but let’s see what the evidence shows.

The polls

As Weber indicated, December 2017 polls about the current tax reform show not only that support is low, but that opposition is high.

Three examples: Only 25 percent approved of the way Republicans "are handling" tax reform and 63 percent disapproved (Marist); 26 percent approved "of the Republican tax plan" and 55 percent disapproved (Quinnipiac); and, among those who said they were aware of the tax plan, 31 percent said they supported it and 49 percent were opposed (Reuters/Ipsos).

Let’s be clear on the timing in terms of weighing Ryan’s claim.

On the same morning of Ryan’s interview, Republicans in Congress announced that House and Senate leaders had reached a deal on reconciling separate tax reform bills that had been approved in the House and the Senate. Details of the agreement had not been released. It was expected that the final bill would be ready for votes in the House and Senate the following week, with a goal of getting the bill to President Donald Trump before Christmas.

It’s difficult to pinpoint when the 1986 tax reform effort was at the same stage as the current effort. But mid- to late-1986 would be roughly the time frame.

According to a New York Times chronology, on July 17, 1986, "in a room overflowing with lobbyists from every conceivable commercial interest, 11 senators and 11 representatives (began) the conference to write the final version of the legislation." The final version was approved by the House and Senate in late-September 1986. Reagan signed the bill Oct. 22, 1986.

Polling experts told us they were surprised, after looking back, how relatively little polling was done about support for the 1986 tax reform at this stage in the process.

Ryan’s office cited to us one result from a September 1986 Gallup Poll: 18 percent said they thought their taxes would decrease under the plan.

But that question isn’t on point in terms of support or approval. More importantly, that poll was taken after the House-Senate conference committee had approved the 1986 bill. That step hadn’t yet occurred when Ryan made his statement about the current reform.

We found four polls taken before that stage.

Two polls with results near Ryan’s 18 percent claim

Poll

Date

Question

Results

ABC News/Washington Post Poll

June 1986

From what you have read or heard, do you favor or oppose this tax bill, or don't you know enough about it to say?

Favor: 22%

Oppose: 15%

Don’t Know/No opinion: 63%

ABC News/Washington Post Poll

Sept. 1986

From what you have read or heard, do you favor or oppose this tax bill, or don’t you know enough about it to say?

Favor: 22%

Oppose: 15%

Don’t know enough about it to say: 63%

 

So, with identical results in both polls, the 22 percent Favor, which is seven points higher than Oppose, is close to Ryan’s 18 percent claim -- even though a strong majority didn’t choose either response.

Two polls with higher support -- and opposition

The other two polls, however, showed much higher support for the bill than Ryan indicated -- but also much higher opposition, as fewer respondents were on the fence:

Gallup Poll

June 1986

From what you’ve heard or read about it, would you say approve or disapprove of the latest tax reform proposal?


 

Approve: 38%

Disapprove: 36%

Don’t Know: 26%

Gallup Poll

Aug. 1986

From what you’ve heard or read about it, would you say approve or disapprove of the latest tax reform proposal?

Approve: 40%

Disapprove 34%

Don’t Know: 26%

 

The 38 percent and 40 percent approval rates in those two polls are much higher than Ryan’s 18 percent claim.

Moreover, the disapproval rates show in polls on the current reform are much higher than those shown in the four 1986 polls. In that respect, the comparison Ryan draws is not entirely on point.

Our rating

Ryan said the 1986 tax reform approved under Reagan "was polling at about 18 percent right before they passed it."

Two national polls, taken at roughly the stage of where the current tax reform effort is, showed 22 percent favored the legislation. That’s close to Ryan’s 18 percent claim.

But two other polls showed approval of the bill at or near 40 percent, as more respondents were willing to choose Approve or Disapprove, rather than Don’t Know. Moreover, the disapproval rates in polls on the current tax reform are much higher than they were in the 1986 polls.

For a statement that is partially accurate, we rate Ryan’s statement Half True.

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Half True
The 1986 tax reform approved under Ronald Reagan "was polling at about 18 percent right before they passed it."
In an interview
Wednesday, December 13, 2017