Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Gulling the Voters

The Winter-Summer 2006 issue of Critical Review reconsiders Philip E. Converse's 1964 paper "The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics". In his concluding response Converse says,
My main concern about the limited information that voters bring to the ballot box is that they are prey to unscrupulous interests who can play off their gullibility. (p. 232)

He cites as an example the ongoing effort to repeal the federal estate tax.
Now on the face of it, it would seem to be virtually impossible to abolish a tax bearing on only 2 percent of the wealthiest of a citizenry. (p. 324)

He appears to think it possible only from clever framing of the issue in terms of a "death tax" and "saving family farms", while those on the other side wring their hands, wailing that this wasn't in the Civics textbook.

To paraphrase Susan Sontag, a voter was better informed on this issue from listening to Rush Limbaugh than from reading Philip Converse. Some of the impetus for death tax repeal came from the retroactive increase in the estate tax in the 1993 Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. Arguments based on the claimed limited scope of the estate tax were less persuasive after the tax rate was increased on the estates of people who were already dead.

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