A new CNN poll released Wednesday, for instance, finds that only 25 percent of Americans believe they and their family will be better off if the two bills making up Biden’s agenda pass. Meanwhile, 32 percent say they’ll be worse off, and 43 percent say they’ll be about the same.
Among independents, who may be souring on Biden, only 20 percent say the bills will make them better off. While those numbers are grim, the poll does find some good news for Biden: 50 percent of Americans approve of his performance.
Yet the poll finds that only 41 percent of Americans want the bills to pass in their current iteration, which would include the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill and the $3.5 trillion social policy reconciliation bill. Another 30 percent want them in scaled down form, with less spending.
In one way, that’s not necessarily bad news. That such a large majority wants something to pass — and that large percentages are agnostic on whether it will help or hurt them — both suggest that only a small minority are dug in against it.
So many Americans might be open to approving of it once it passes and they learn more about it. But that means Democrats should hurry up and make that happen.
Their basic dilemma is also underscored in a new CBS News poll. It finds soaring support for individual provisions in Biden’s agenda, with 88 percent of Americans supporting the government negotiating down prescription drug prices, 84 percent supporting expanding Medicare to cover dental, eye and hearing treatment, and 73 percent supporting paid family and medical leave.
The CBS poll also finds general support for the two big Biden bills is in the low-to-mid 50s — good, but not nearly as good as the individual provisions. And only 36 percent say the Build Back Better social policy bill will help them or their families.
Sean McElwee, who polls regularly for the progressive group Data for Progress, thinks the message for Democrats is clear.
“The longer they sit these bills out there, and let them get attacked not just from Republicans but from the center of their party, the more difficult it is to claim these as unifying bills,” McElwee told me, adding that this clouds the case that “Biden is doing stuff for you.”
On another front, we’re currently embroiled in a grand debate over whether Democrats can win back working class voters, mostly but not exclusively whites, by emphasizing very popular economic policies.
Yet the CNN poll finds that only 17 percent of noncollege whites say the bills would make them better off, and 47 percent say worse off. The CBS poll finds that only 29 percent of noncollege whites believe they’ll be helped by Build Back Better, and majorities of those voters disapprove generally of Biden’s bills.
But, maddeningly, the CBS poll also shows overwhelming support among noncollege whites for the individual provisions in the bills. That presents an opportunity — if Democrats can pass these things.
“One of the big problems here is the parts that would help noncollege whites the most are on the chopping block,” McElwee said.
The prescription drug proposal, expanded Medicare and the expanded child tax credit are among the proposals that could get cut or downsized to appease centrists. As McElwee noted, this might deprive Democrats of a ripe opportunity to reach those voters, who won’t see access to Medicare expanded and “won’t see their drug prices go down.”
Above all, it seems clear that the longer this process goes on, the more it gives Republicans an opportunity to demagogue and the more it sours voters on the general process.
“Right now, there’s so much fighting about the contents of the bill that it’s tough to have messaging about the impacts,” McElwee told me. At the end of the day, he said, there’s still a good chance that passing Biden’s agenda will give it a big boost in popularity, but for now, Democrats must show “urgency” about “giving voters a sense of what we’re actually doing.”
All this probably can’t be avoided. Complex legislation just does require bridging differences among different factions and constituencies, and that’s hard, painstaking work. But both centrists and progressives alike stand to lose out if this keeps dragging on forever, dragging their agenda’s popularity down with it.