Voters skeptical of Dole's tax cut In Delaware, many doubt he can deliver what he has promised

Campaign 1996

September 13, 1996|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WILMINGTON, Del. -- With a bank on nearly every corner, and an upstart credit card business slowly gobbling up block after block in the center of town, talk of money and interest rates and taxes resonates here like a stock market clang.

But talk of Bob Dole's 15 percent across-the-board tax cut plan -- the centerpiece of the Republican's presidential campaign and the subject of the TV ads he's been running here -- appears to be falling on deaf, or at least highly suspicious, ears.

Interviews with almost three dozen voters this week, in this state that has voted in presidential elections over the past 30 years much as the nation has, suggest that the tax cut proposal is failing to excite or even interest the public.

Voters, including Dole supporters, mostly view it with cynicism and distrust. They say they don't believe Dole can deliver what he has promised: a tax cut and a balanced budget without major reductions in such programs as Medicare and Medicaid.

"It's lights and mirrors and smoke," said Republican Curtis Jones, 49, a police officer. "They all say the same things."

"Just saying 'tax cut' doesn't sway my vote," said tax attorney Charlie Horn, 30, a Republican-leaning independent voter who is undecided and unhappy with Dole. "I don't think he's made a very strong case yet."

National polls reflect such sentiments.

A survey late last month by a Republican and a Democratic pollster showed that more people thought a cure for cancer was likelier to happen within the next 20 years than a 15 percent tax cut.

A CNN/Time poll released this week showed that 23 percent of voters believe Dole can cut taxes and reduce the federal budget deficit at the same time, 69 percent don't believe he can.

Even Republican strategists are now voicing what some have thought for a while. "It's clearly not going to be the panacea," says Paul Wilson, a GOP consultant not affiliated with the Dole camp.

Dole, who campaigned here Wednesday with flat-tax proponent Steve Forbes, is now reaching for new ways to explain his economic plan, recognizing that it has not caught fire or moved him in the polls since he unveiled it prior to the GOP convention.

"Don't believe all the scare ads," he told an audience in Baker, La., on Tuesday, referring to a Clinton ad accusing Dole of planning to cut Medicare to pay for his tax reduction.

Dole said all he had to do was save 5 or 6 cents from every dollar spent on government programs "and we can save about $576 billion over the next six years, which more than pays for the tax cut."

Relying on supply-side economic theory, he also has said that the tax cuts will stimulate new business activity and additional revenues for the treasury.

But such explanations may have a hard time breaking through a layer of cynicism so thick and pervasive that, of more than 30 individuals interviewed here, only a single person embraced Dole's tax cut plan enthusiastically.

"As I told my 7-year-old daughter, I truly believe our leaders should allow us to keep more money in our own pocket and let us decide how to spend it," said attorney Kevin Healy, a Dole supporter. "This is our money."

Every person interviewed said he or she had heard about Dole's tax cut plan, suggesting the general message has gotten through. And a poll by the Pew Research Center released yesterday showed that taxes head the list of issues voters say they want discussed.

Even so, the majority of those questioned here said they were so distrustful of campaign promises that they didn't believe any talk of a tax break.

"We always hear about a tax cut plan," said DuPont employee Mary Anne Frey, 41, a Reagan Democrat. She has seen Dole's ads that promise an annual savings of $1,600 for the typical family.

"I'm like, 'Yeah, right.' I'd like to believe that, but I haven't heard how he plans to do it," she said.

Voters remember

Dole may have recent history to thank for the deep skepticism. Voters tick off a number of campaign vows never fulfilled, such as President Clinton's promise of a middle-class tax cut, that have made Dole's words sound hollow to them.

At the top of the list is George Bush's "no new taxes" pledge of 1988 that is still ringing in the ears of many Republicans.

"It's just like 'Read my lips,' " says Lois Parry, 49, a secretary at DuPont and former Bush supporter who hasn't decided how she'll vote. "I have no faith in the political system."

Some Republican strategists insist that a tax break is still a winning strategy. They point to Republican Gov. Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey, who came from 20 points behind to topple incumbent Gov. James J. Florio in 1993 with her promise of a 30 percent tax cut.

And GOP candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey came close to winning the 1994 governor's race in heavily Democratic Maryland with her promise of a 24 percent break on personal income tax.

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