The rural white communities that powered Donald Trump’s November victory have not been big policy winners in the president’s first 100 days in office, but the tax plan the White House released this week may have them in mind as a target.
In 2016, candidate Donald Trump ran a populist campaign that focused on bringing back manufacturing and coal jobs and generally taking care of blue-collar workers who feel they have been left behind in the global economy. President Trump, however, has taken different approaches on key issues.
In the first 100 days of his administration the president has:
- Reversed himself on labeling the Chinese government a currency manipulator, a consistent promise in his campaign.
- Submitted a budget that calls for zeroing out spending on rural airports, as well as government programs that benefit poor counties in Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta.
- Supported the initial plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, which would have hit rural areas particularly hard.
Trump’s handling of NAFTA may, or may not, also be added into that mix. He railed against the trade agreement during the campaign and threatened to dump it, but this week announced he would rather renegotiate. What that renegotiation looks like in the end will likely play a big role in how Trump’s voters see his efforts on NAFTA. But on the whole, there are not a lot of wins on this list for rural, blue-collar America.
So far it doesn’t seem to matter. Trump’s base looks remarkably solid.
The most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 82% of Republicans approve of the job he is doing as president, compared to 40% nationally. And an analysis of Gallup daily tracking poll data at the 100-day mark found that Trump has a job approval rating of 54% or higher in rural counties in the Midwest, in Appalachia, and in evangelical counties in the south.
Eventually, however, even the most die-hard supporters want results and the loose tax proposal the White House released this week may give Trump something to sell to his rural base.
Much has been made of the plan’s aim to lower business taxes, but for Trump’s blue-collar base the plan to double the standard deduction on individual income taxes may have the biggest impact for his voters. Consider two points.
One, on income tax returns with a gross income of $50,000 or less, 87% of taxpayers took the standard deduction in 2014, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
And two, out of the 2,600 counties that Trump won in November, more than 1,800 have a median household income of less than $50,000.
For people in rural counties that Trump won by very big margins, such as Somerset in Pennsylvania, Ionia in Michigan and Manitowoc in Wisconsin, that could mean a tax bill cut in half, and savings of more than $1,000. That’s not a small amount of money in those counties where the median household income is $49,000 or less.
In some ways it’s a trade off, of course. Is the tax cut enough to keep voters in Trump’s base happy in the wake of the program cuts the White House has proposed and some of the backtracking it has done on trade?
It’s at least a down payment. And as the Administration’s first 100 days ends, the tax plan is a sign that the Trump team wants to have something that tries to take care of the voters that took care of him.