Testing of Ads on GOP Tax Plan Reveals Real Danger for Republican Incumbents

December 18, 2017


TO: Interested Parties
FROM: Guy Cecil, Chairman of Priorities USA
DATE: December 15, 2017
RE: Testing of Ads on GOP Tax Plan Reveals Real Danger for Republican Incumbents


Last month, Priorities USA announced it was expanding its campaign against the Republican tax plan with a $2 million digital advertising push to hold incumbents supporting the plan accountable across 20 House districts and a number of Senate states including Nevada, Arizona, and others.

During the course of this ad blitz, we have been conducting surveys to measure voter response to our ads. The results have been striking: after voters are exposed to ads about the tax plan, the job approval numbers for the incumbent drops, and voters are more inclined to vote against the incumbent in next year’s midterm elections. These findings show that Congress should not move forward with the Republican tax plan.

This ratifies the findings of several polls suggesting that Republicans will pay a heavy political price for their support for the tax proposal. A November survey conducted by Priorities showed the plan causing the generic congressional ballot to shift from a 45%-34% advantage for Democrats before messaging to a 50%-33% edge for Democrats after hearing about the tax plan.

Priorities plans to continue pressing ahead with this digital advertising program and we urge other campaigns and progressive organizations to join in investing significant resources in order to present the tax argument to voters. It is clear that the more voters hear about the tax plan, the more likely they are to vote for opponents of the measure next year.

GOP Tax Plan Hurts Incumbents’ Job Approval and Reelection Numbers

Priorities collected 12,237 responses from voters in 20 House districts where our ads appeared. We also surveyed voters in Nevada (whose senator, Dean Heller, voted for the plan and faces reelection next year).

According to the survey, our ads accounted for a three-point drop in lawmakers’ job approval numbers. Also, the percentage of voters who said they would vote to reelect the incumbent was three points lower among those who saw the ads.

Emphasizing the Plan’s Cuts to Medicare Moves the Needle the Most

Priorities ran two spots as part of its advertising campaign on the tax plan. One highlighted how the plan’s tax cuts for the wealthy would also produce tax hikes for millions of middle-class families. The other spotlighted how the tax cuts for the wealthy would be paid for with cuts to Medicare.

While both spots led to a worsening of voters’ views of their Republican representatives, the Medicare spot performed the best. It dropped electoral support for these incumbents six percentage points. Medicare-related ads were particularly effective with men, middle-aged voters, and seniors, who were 10 points, 11 points, and 14 points less likely, respectively, to support these elected officials after seeing our advertising. The same ad also decreased incumbent job approval among women, seniors, and middle-aged voters by four, five, and 12 points, respectively.

The intense opposition to the plan’s cuts to Medicare is consistent with Priorities’ poll last month. That survey found that the cuts to Medicare and Medicaid was the feature that most soured voters on the Republican plan, with 73% of those surveyed saying it caused them to view the proposal less favorably.

Republicans Are Already Warning of Deep Cuts to Medicare Since Tax Vote

Priorities’ ad warning of the tax plan’s cuts to Medicare relied on the findings from the Congressional Budget Office, which concluded that the deficit impact from the legislation would require $25 billion in Medicare cuts in the first year after passage.

Recent comments by House Speaker Paul Ryan have make the threat to Medicare even more pronounced. This month in a radio interview, Ryan declared that congressional Republicans would spend 2018 trying to force dramatic changes to Medicare and Medicaid.

Ryan had the gall to claim that these programs were the main problems when it comes to the nation’s deficits, even as Republicans continue to push a tax plan that independent analysts say will cost at least $1 trillion over 10 years.

Ryan’s unabashed announcement that Medicare is on the chopping block will only add to the urgency around this issue and make it more salient in messaging over the coming year. As our survey shows, constituents are already concerned about cuts to the program; these statements should only make the fallout worse.


The tax plan’s political risks for incumbent members of Congress are no longer theoretical. The vast majority of Republicans have voted for it, the ads about the plan are already running, and we now know that as voters see those ads, they are becoming less likely to vote to reelect their Republican incumbents. This is destined to be a defining issue in House and Senate races across the country. Opponents of the tax plan should not relent in emphasizing the horrible impacts of this plan, particularly how the tax cuts it bestows on the wealthiest Americans would lead to severe cuts to programs like Medicare.