Can Biden’s COVID-19 Relief Bill Help Democrats Avoid A Midterm Defeat?

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll(s) of the week

President Biden’s American Rescue Plan is overwhelmingly popular: Seventy percent of adults said they were in favor of the legislation, compared to just 28 percent who opposed the bill, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey

Support for the bill crossed party lines, too, with some polls finding over 50 percent of Republicans saying they either strongly supported or somewhat supported the sweeping aid package that includes more than $400 billion to combat the pandemic, $350 billion to help state and local governments address budget shortfalls and, of course, $1,400 direct payments to individuals.

It should come as no surprise that the bill mainly drew support from Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (94 percent, according to Pew), but what is a bit more unexpected is the share of lower-income Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who said they favored the legislation. An overwhelming majority (63 percent) of lower-income Republicans said they were in favor of the bill in that Pew report. This compares to 37 percent of Republicans in middle-income households and 25 percent of upper-income Republicans. (Meanwhile, support among lower and higher income Democratic households was equally high.)

At first glance, those numbers appear to reveal a potential lifeline for Democrats hoping to avoid losing their congressional majorities in 2022: Successfully running on a strong economy in 2022 with voters penalizing the Republicans who voted against sending relief to millions of Americans. But they also raise questions of how much stock we should be putting into Republican support of the bill, given the inroads the party has made with lower income voters and those without a college degree in recent presidential elections. In particular, how can Democrats win back white voters who fall into this camp?

The answer is, of course, complicated. But Biden and Democrats’ calculus, so far, seems to be pushing New Deal-esque policies and an economic message that aims to resonate with more working- and middle-class voters. And according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, the relief package is expected to benefit low- and middle-income households the most. They found households making $91,000 or less would receive 70 percent of the tax benefits from the plan. This stands in stark contrast to the impact of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act under former President Donald Trump, where nearly half of the cuts went to households in the top 5 percent.

That said, Biden isn’t explicitly campaigning on this legislation. In fact, he rarely addressed it in his first presidential speech earlier this month, instead projecting a message of unity to American voters. But the potential effects of the bill can’t be overstated: If the relief package is able to kickstart the economy and help lower-income voters financially, Biden and other Democrats might be able to reap the electoral benefits of this bill — perhaps even avoiding the “shellacking” that the president’s party typically sees in midterm elections.

So far, what’s working in Biden’s favor is that poll after poll finds he’s relatively popular among the American public: His approval rating regarding his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has remained steady in the low 60s, which is a vast improvement over Trump’s, which was stuck in the high 30s. His initial presidential approval rating is higher than Trump’s ever was, but it is currently in the 50 percent range, which suggests that some voters aren’t necessarily factoring in Biden’s handling of the pandemic when it comes to whether they think he’s doing a good job overall. (The bill passed just last week, though, so it’s entirely possible we could see Biden’s numbers tick up, but as we reported earlier this week, don’t expect a big swing one way or another.) 

Ultimately, whether Biden — and, by default, Democrats — reap the benefits electorally depends on myriad factors: whether Biden’s approval remains steady or increases, whether Democrats can translate this legislative success into “credit” among voters given how polarized the nation is and whether Republicans can convince voters that the bill’s spending was excessive

There are still plenty of ways 2022 could become a midterm disaster for Democrats (especially if the bill’s provisions lead to a spike in inflation). But at this point, it’s broadly popular, and that’s good news for Democrats. While it’s too soon to tell whether the majority party will retain its slim margins in the House and Senate, one thing is for certain: A good economy can go a long way

Other polling bites

  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has taken flak from both Democrats and Republicans for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic in the state, but on March 2, in an apparent nod to Texas businesses and those in his right flank, he announced that he would be reopening the state “100 percent” and repealed a statewide mask mandate that had been in place since July. According to polling from Morning Consult, this announcement may have had an adverse effect on Abbott’s approval ratings statewide, whereas a weeklong winter storm that left millions without power and dozens dead didn’t move Abbott’s numbers much. In total, 52 percent of Texas voters said they approved of Abbott’s job performance overall — down 6 points since he announced the elimination of COVID-19 restrictions. Over the same time period, the share of people who disapproved of Abbott increased 8 points, to 43 percent.
  • In New York, meanwhile, Democrats are still torn over whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo should resign from his seat amid a spate of sexual harassment allegations: Forty-nine percent of New York voters said Cuomo should not resign, versus 43 percent who said he should, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll. (This compares to an earlier Quinnipiac poll where 55 percent of respondents said he should not resign, compared to 40 percent who said he should.) Of course, this story is fluid, so expect these numbers to change, but the latest survey is one of a few that comes after a slate of Democrats in New York’s congressional delegation — including Sens. Chuck Shumer and Kirsten Gillibrand — asked the governor to step down.
  • As we enter the second year of the pandemic, many Americans are still experiencing mental health difficulties, according to a recent Pew survey: Twenty-one percent of U.S. adults said they’re experiencing high levels of psychological distress; among those, 28 percent said the pandemic has changed their lives in “a major way.” Lower-income people, those between the ages of 18-to-29 and women are among some of the groups especially likely to say they’re feeling higher levels of psychological distress.
  • Meanwhile, as the vaccine rollout continues and offices continue to develop plans for the workplace post-pandemic, 72 percent of respondents in a SurveyMonkey poll said their workplace is likely to have a more flexible work-from-home policy after the COVID-19 pandemic than before it began. According to the poll, a majority of employees working from home (65 percent) said their ideal work setup would be a hybrid model where they split their time working from home and from the office.
  • A majority of Americans, 68 percent, still plan to get vaccinated, according to a recent Morning Consult survey. The poll also found that racial gaps in terms of access to the vaccine have significantly narrowed, which supports something we’ve already reported: Access, rather than reluctance, is driving low vaccination rates among Black Americans. But there’s still a significant partisan gap. According to the Morning Consult survey, Democrats (83 percent) are more likely than Republicans (58 percent) and independents to say they would get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Biden approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 53.6 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 40.4 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of +13.2 points). At this time last week, 53.2 percent approved and 40.2 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of +13.0 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 54.4 percent and a disapproval rating of 37.8 percent, for a net approval rating of +16.6 points.

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