This article was originally published by Truth and Consequences on February 9, 2021. This is the second column from Jeremy Rosner, managing partner at the consulting firm GQR and an expert on political polling in the US and globally.
Even before President Joe Biden took office, it was clear that one of the pivotal questions for his tenure would be whether he would be able and willing to “go big.” Given the closely divided country and the need for post-Trump healing, would Biden and his team reach for the limits of progressive change, or settle for smaller measures that were more easily within reach?
The first, biggest test of that question is shaping up to be Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion COVID relief and stimulus package. Biden’s first moves are mostly encouraging. After meeting with 10 Senate Republicans on February 1, Biden flatly reflected their proposal to slash the relief package by more than two-thirds, down to $618 billion.
At the same time, his team has given Hill leaders the green light to proceed with enacting as much of his package as possible through the congressional “budget reconciliation” process, which cannot be filibustered, and so only requires a simple majority to be passed. That is the kind of political muscle-flexing Biden will need to exercise in order to get big things done.
The apparent decision to go big partly reflects the near-miraculous double Democratic victory in the two Georgia Senate run-off races on January 5. Those wins gave Democrats control of the chamber, although by the narrowest possible margin.
It also may reflect learning from the early days of the Obama administration, which went very big on health care reform, but accepted a stunted stimulus package from Congress of less than $800 billion – a figure lower than what it reportedly wanted – which meant slower economic growth for years to come. As the guy called in to cajole the final votes, then-Vice President Biden likely felt it was the best they could get; but it also may inform his impulse now to swing for the fences.
The good news for Biden is that the public is solidly behind him. And not just “his” public. But virtually the whole public.
A poll that our firm, GQR, conducted for the new “Invest in America Action” coalition is almost shocking in the degree of support it shows on this point. At a time when Americans are bitterly divided into partisan camps over virtually everything, there is a mile-wide consensus in support of another whopping big stimulus package.
In the survey, which fielded online from January 14-18 with 1,000 registered voters, a lopsided 77-23% majority backs “another major stimulus” and rejects the idea that “Congress [has] enacted enough stimulus packages.”
It’s not just the big majority that is so remarkable. It’s that there is majority support across virtually every important demographic: 92% of self-identified Democrats; 73% of Independents; 64% of Republicans; 61% of 2020 Trump voters. Even among one of the most loyal Trump demographics, White non-college-educated men, 75% want another major stimulus package.
And they want it to be even bigger than the last one. Among the 77% who support more stimulus, a whopping 68-4% wants it to be larger than the $900 billion package enacted in December. Those numbers instantly put Republican $618 billion figure on the public’s wrong side.
These numbers are likely to move as the debate progresses. If Republican voters see their congressional leaders lining up against such a package, many will take their partisan cues and decide they’re not so fond of another stimulus bill after all.
But there are reasons to think Biden and his allies on the Hill will continue to get the public backing they need to continue going big.
First, the survey shows that the support is not only lopsided, but stubborn. After hearing a long, balanced set of arguments on each side of this debate, support for another major stimulus package barely moves – it falls just 3 points, to 74%.
Second, the public is understandably desperate to make faster progress against COVID-19, and they see this package as key to moving beyond the pandemic’s health and economic devastation. In focus groups we conducted for this same project, swing voters talked about the pandemic as a “national emergency”; they say fighting the pandemic is the “lynchpin” to progress on every other front; and they argue that in an emergency we should pull together to do whatever is necessary to help people. (All that raises some questions about how strong support may be for huge spending bills once the pandemic has passed, but that day is far away.)
Third, the marquee elements of the Biden package are notably popular, especially the idea of sending checks to households totaling $2,000 ($600 from the December package and another $1,400 now). When the survey asks voters what the two most important priorities should be “for Congress to do right away,” number one is “investing in public health and ways to get the COVID vaccine to everyone more quickly” (the first or second choice of 71%, from a list of 10 possibilities); second is “sending $2,000 stimulus checks directly to households (64%).
As a political question, it’s tough to understand why many Republicans are opposing these checks. A lot of voters think too much of the last two stimulus packages, under President Trump, went to big businesses, the wealthy, and politicians themselves. The household checks are not popular simply because they will bring people cold cash; they are also one of the few elements that convince average citizens that the stimulus funds are flowing to people like themselves, and not being diverted to the powerful. Politicians who oppose that do so at their own peril.
Biden still faces many legislative hurdles before he can break out the signing pens for his stimulus package. But his apparent determination to go big is likely to have relatively unified and enduring support from America’s otherwise divided electorate.