This sort of policy, and especially the $1,400 checks that President Biden’s relief package is dispensing to millions, has Democrats hoping to be rewarded by voters in 2022, staving off the midterm losses that ordinarily hit the party that has just taken control of the White House.
But another outcome is possible. This rescue bill constitutes a big victory for Democrats’ vision of expansive, supportive government, and so would big public expenditures on infrastructure and job creation, if Democrats can get them passed. But Democrats may also have to fight voters’ resistance to giving Washington credit for anything. Even checks handed to them.
A new poll of rural voters, commissioned by a super PAC that seeks to build support for Democrats in rural areas, underscores the point: It finds that a large percentage of rural voters in battleground states are not ascribing credit for stimulus payments to the Democratic Party.
The poll, which was conducted by YouGov for Rural Objective PAC, finds that only 50 percent of those rural voters associate “providing stimulus checks directly to families and workers” with the Democratic Party.
Meanwhile, 32 percent of those rural voters associate this with the GOP, and another 11 percent associate it with neither party. That’s a total of 43 percent who don’t associate it with Democrats.
“We’re not connecting with these voters, even if we have great policy,” J.D. Scholten, the executive director of the Rural Objective PAC, told us. Scholten experienced this firsthand, having run for a House seat in rural Iowa in 2020 and lost.
The poll surveyed more than 2,000 rural voters in nine 2022 Senate battleground states — Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Wisconsin — online from April 29 to May 13.
What’s striking is that the poll also finds that 68 percent of these rural voters support the stimulus checks (in keeping with other polls showing that Biden’s rescue measure is overwhelmingly popular). Yet it’s not clear Democrats are getting the credit from them.
This could be partly because in 2020, Republicans did support two rounds of such checks. But in 2021, every single congressional Republican voted against Biden’s rescue bill. Will that matter?
As Scholten points out, if there were one thing that might vault regional divides and win some rural support for Democrats, it would be massive infusions of badly needed economic assistance.
“This was one of the biggest investments we’ve seen in rural America since the New Deal,” Scholten told us. “It’s good policy. It should be good politics, too, but right now Democrats aren’t taking advantage of it.”
To be fair, the poll also finds that large percentages of rural voters do associate other provisions in the rescue package (such as supplemental unemployment benefits) with Democrats.
But the big stimulus checks, not so much. And the poll also finds that a meager 42 percent of these rural voters associate investments in rural broadband with the Democratic Party, while 25 percent associate them with the GOP.
It’s true that the GOP’s alternative infrastructure proposal also includes such investments. But only a small fraction of GOP senators back this, and the Democratic Party has championed them far more aggressively.
The problem may be that once people get a benefit, they often convince themselves to forget that government gave it to them, something political scientists have long documented. And so, if you want to change people’s perspective on government, you have to offer them benefits that are widely enjoyed and highly visible. And then you have to keep reminding them of what they got.
A day should seldom go by when the administration isn’t saying, “Hey, remember those stimulus checks Democrats gave you? And how about that child tax credit you’re getting every month? Don’t forget that was because of Democrats; Republicans fought against it with all they had.”
That applies to upcoming policies, too. The administration’s proposed infrastructure and jobs plan has also polled remarkably well. But this offers no guarantee that it will be politically beneficial to Democrats if it passes.
That political benefit will depend on how it’s rolled out, how visible and rapid the results are (nobody is all that happy with road repairs until they’re complete), and whether Democrats can successfully remind people that Democratic rule in Washington improved their lives.