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Winning the votes for institutional change: how discursive acts of compromise shaped radical income tax reforms in the United States

Rademacher, I. ORCID: 0000-0003-0407-8094 (2022). Winning the votes for institutional change: how discursive acts of compromise shaped radical income tax reforms in the United States. Policy Studies, 43(6), pp. 1173-1194. doi: 10.1080/01442872.2021.1946027


Since the 1980s, many governments in the Western world have implemented radical income tax cuts which have become associated with soaring levels of inequality. The literature has focused on institutional accounts to explain these developments. However, institutions alone cannot account for the emergence of societal and political support necessary for radical change of this kind. Therefore, this paper explores the role of communication techniques directed at voters, interest groups and legislators to enable radical reform. Based on a content analysis of Congressional debates for the Reagan and Bush tax cuts, contextualised with archival documents from Presidential Libraries, this study shows the critical relevance of strategic acts of compromise to shore up legislative and voter support for radical tax cuts. It finds (a) that change actors have several different acts of strategic compromise (incorporation, compensation, and reconciliation) at their disposal which they use at different points in the legislative process. That (b) the most successful strategies consistently link the coordinative discourse (bargaining with interest groups behind closed doors) and communicative discourse (directed at the public and the minority congressional party). And that (c) change actors learn how to the use successful combinations of compromise over time and thereby enhance reform stability.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: ©2021 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided theoriginal work is properly cited.
Publisher Keywords: Discourse; tax reforms; institutional change; electoral politics; United States
Subjects: E History America > E151 United States (General)
H Social Sciences > HJ Public Finance
J Political Science > JK Political institutions (United States)
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > International Politics
Text - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons: Attribution International Public License 4.0.

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