December 23, 2013

Congressional Republicans returned home for the holidays with empty stockings for constituents who are suffering with long-term unemployment, after the GOP repeatedly blocked renewal of the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation fund. Now a new poll shows their stinginess could create a significant backlash at the polls next year — including from some Republican voters.

FILE - In this Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013, file photo, Jimmetta Smith, of Lithonia, Ga., right, the wife of a U.S. Marine veteran, holds her resume while talking with Rhonda Knight, a senior recruiter for Delta airlines, at a job fair for veterans and family members at the VFW Post 2681, in Marietta, Ga. The Labor Department reports on the number of Americans who applied for unemployment benefits last week on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)
Jimmetta Smith, of Lithonia, Ga., right, the wife of a U.S. Marine veteran, holds her resume while talking with Rhonda Knight, a senior recruiter for Delta airlines, at a job fair. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

Public Policy Polling (PPP) took a look at four Republican-occupied swing districts in the House, as well as the district of House Speaker John Boehner. Bipartisan majorities of voters in each district supported extending long-term unemployment benefits:

  • In California’s 31st district, currently held by Rep. Gary Miller, 68 percent of voters want the benefits continued and 28 percent support ending them. Republicans support an extension 54-41.
  • In Colorado’s 6th district, held by Rep. Mike Coffman, voters want the benefits extended by a 63-33 margin, with a narrow plurality of Republicans (48 percent) in favor.
  • Rep. Dan Benishek will face voters in Michigan’s 1st district who heavily support an extension, by a 66-29 percent margin, including 60 percent of Republicans.
  • In Illinois’s 13th district there is also a 66-29 percent split in favor of extending benefits, with 53 percent of Republicans in favor. The seat is currently held by Rep. Rodney Davis.

Even in Boehner’s home district, one finds similar numbers: Sixty-three percent of voters want the fund extended and 34 percent do not, including a majority (52 percent) of Republican voters.

A common rejoinder to such polling data is that perhaps voters will not prioritize the issue when casting a ballot next fall — but PPP also asked if a failure to extend long-term unemployment benefits would make voters less likely to reelect the incumbent. In each district the answer was yes.

This poll was commissioned by the liberal group Americans United for Change and is part of a wider strategy by Democrats and progressives to push Republicans into renewing the benefits as soon as Congress returns next year. As Greg Sargent outlined recently, a key part of this strategy is making sure the issue resonates back home.

Polls like this, along with increasingly brutal local media coverage, must be worrying many a Republican strategist. It reinforces several major negative perceptions about congressional Republicans — that they are pervasively obstructionist, that they have little concern for worse-off Americans and that they allow ideology to hamper the economic recovery. (A failure to renew the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program would cost 240,000 jobs, according to a White House report.)

That’s exactly the message progressives will be hammering over the holiday break, especially when benefits for the long-term unemployed stop three days after Christmas. “It’s not just in America’s economic interest to extend [unemployment] benefits, [but] these polls show it’s in swing-district Republicans’ own political interest to support the jobless in their districts,” said Jeremy Funk of Americans United for Change. “Otherwise they just might join their ranks.”