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Public opposition to tax bill grows as vote approaches

Story highlights
  • 66% say the tax bill does more to help the wealthy than the middle class
  • Democrats and Republicans have polar-opposite views on the bill
  • Trump's 35% approval is a new low in CNN polling, below previous first-year presidents at this point

WASHINGTON(CNN) With the House of Representatives set to vote on the Republican tax reform bill Tuesday before sending it to the Senate and then the President's desk for signing on Wednesday, the plan faces growing opposition and a widespread perception that it will benefit the wealthy more than the middle class, according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS.

Opposition to the bill has grown 10 points since early November, and 55% now oppose it. Just 33% say they favor the GOP's proposals to reform the nation's tax code.

Related: Full poll results

Two-thirds see the bill as doing more to benefit the wealthy than the middle class (66%, vs. 27% who say it'll do more to benefit the middle class) and almost four in 10 (37%) say that if the bill becomes law, their own family will be worse off. That's grown five points since early November. Just 21% say they'll be better off if the bill becomes law.

President Donald Trump, the bill's salesperson-in-chief, lands at an overall 35% approval rating in this poll, his worst mark yet in CNN polling by one point. Trump's approval ratings continue to be the lowest for any modern president at this point in his presidency. As of December of their first year in office, all first-time elected presidents back to Eisenhower have approval ratings of 49% or higher except for Trump.

More than six in 10 (63%) see the tax bill as leaving the President and his family better off. Just 5% think it harms the Trump clan. And disapproval of the President's handling of taxes has risen six points in the last month, to 57%.

Almost three-quarters, 73%, say the President should release his tax returns for public review, about the same share that said so as his inauguration approached in January.

Overall, Americans see health care and averting a government shutdown as higher priorities than passing tax reform, but among Republicans, taxes top the congressional to-do list. Overall, 17% call tax reform the top priority for Congress, below the 30% who prioritize health care and 23% who say Congress should focus on passing a bill to avoid a shutdown. Just 10% cited infrastructure improvements in the poll conducted Thursday through Sunday, before a train derailment in Washington state Monday morning. Among Republicans, 29% call taxes their top priority, 24% health care, 19% immigration and 18% averting a shutdown.

Beyond differing legislative priorities, partisan perceptions of the tax bill itself are night-and-day. Opposition to the bill is up 10 points since November among Democrats, to 89%, support for the bill up 12 points over that time among Republicans, to 76%. Republicans are more likely than others to say they'll be better off if the bill passes (40%, vs. 21% of independents and 9% of Democrats). Democrats are nearly unanimous in their impression of the bill as benefiting the wealthy over the middle class (95%, vs. 27% of Republicans; 64% of independents see a tilt to the wealthy) and in believing it will benefit Trump and his family (84% say that's the case, as do 63% of independents; but just 32% of Republicans agree). And while seven in 10 Democrats hoped the legislators merging the House and Senate versions of the bill would prioritize minimizing the impact on the budget deficit, 58% of Republicans wanted those same legislators to find ways to maintain the bill's tax cuts as proposed.

There is one point of agreement: Few see any cooperation across the aisle among those crafting the bill. Just 6% of Democrats think the Republicans and Trump made a good-faith effort to work with Democrats on the bill, and only 20% of Republicans think the Democrats made such an effort to work with their side.

Overall, the public sees less cooperation between the majority and minority on this bill than on the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, an effort Republicans raise frequently as an example of Democrats acting without bipartisan cooperation. A Washington Post poll in March of that year, just after passage of Obamacare, found that 48% felt Obama and the Democrats made a good faith effort to work with the minority Republicans. In the new CNN poll, that figure stands at 27% for Trump and the Republicans on working with Democrats on this tax bill. In addition, 37%, say Democrats made a good-faith effort to work with Republicans on taxes this year, a bit higher than the 31% who felt the GOP made the same effort on Obamacare in the 2010 survey.

Republican Sen. John McCain, who will miss any vote on the bill this week while working through the side effects of cancer treatment, is viewed favorably by the public overall: 54% have a favorable impression, 30% an unfavorable one. The frequent critic of the President is more popular with Democrats than Republicans, however, with 68% of Democrats saying they have a favorable view of the former Republican presidential nominee and just 46% of Republicans agreeing. His ratings are among their worst among Trump's supporters: Among those who approve of the President, just 39% have a favorable take on McCain, and 50% an unfavorable one.

The poll also found that 83% favor continuing the policy that allows immigrants brought to the US illegally as children to remain in the country if they meet certain conditions. That's about the same as in September.

The CNN Poll was conducted by SSRS December 14-17 among a random national sample of 1,001 adults reached on landlines or cellphones by a live interviewer. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points, it is larger for subgroups.