Working Paper

A Distorting Mirror: Major Media Coverage of Americans’ Tax Policy Preferences

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Over the last four decades, Americans have consistently told pollsters that they favor higher taxes on business and the wealthy, even as tax policy has moved sharply in the other direction.

Political scientists and political commentators regularly assume that elected officials respond to the preferences of citizens, despite recent findings that the correlations between public preferences and policy outcomes disappear when accounting for the preferences of the wealthy. This paper quantitatively assesses the failure of democratic responsiveness on this issue. It examines coverage of American’s tax policy preferences in two major national newspapers, the New York Times and USA Today. Both newspapers exhibit nearly identical behavior: they privilege elite sources, ignore the voices of ordinary citizens, and misrepresent public preferences. They also highlight expressions of public opposition to taxes and suppress evidence of persistent public support for higher taxes on business and the wealthy.