Fast on the heels of the Senate passage of the $1 trillion infrastructure bill, Senate Democrats have now advanced a $3.5 trillion "soft infrastructure" budget plan. This sprawling bill includes a laundry list of Democratic policy initiatives designed to create jobs, improve Americans' working and living conditions, improve access to healthcare, improve educational opportunities, deal with immigration and climate change issues, subsidize child care, expand Medicare and paid family and medical leave benefits, and more. Democratic Senate leadership will attempt to pass the bill using complex legislative maneuvering that would require only a 51-vote majority and be filibuster-proof. The Democratic-led House needs to pass the legislation as well before it can become law.
There is no doubt that the scope of the new budget bill is prodigious. Sen. Bernie Sanders called it "the most consequential piece of legislation for working people, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor since FDR and the New Deal of the 1930s," while Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said, "It is big, bold change -- the kind of change America thirsts for," opining that it would bring about "a generational transformation to how our economy works for average Americans."
There is also no doubt that Republican leadership strongly opposes the bill. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called it "a historically reckless taxing and spending spree," while Sen. Lindsey Graham said in a similar vein that the bill is "the worst-thought-out idea I've ever seen" and "a dream for those who want to socialize" the U.S., claiming that the bill puts at risk "America as we know it." Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming seconded Graham's thoughts, saying, "The Democrats' tax and spending spree is a multitrillion-dollar freight train to socialism."
These countervailing opinions from partisan leaders are not unusual (although there was welcome bipartisanship in the passage of the initial infrastructure bill), but they raise the question of how average Americans feel about the legislation. There are three ways pollsters can attempt to answer that question. The first is analysis of the results of "umbrella" questions that describe the overall bill in some fashion and ask the public's opinion of it. The second is to dissect the bill and gauge public opinion about its constituent pieces. The third is to measure broad public reactions to the meta implications or consequences of the bill, including enlarged government and increased deficit spending.
Public Opinion on the Overall Bill
I've located several recent polls that ask about the bill in a broad, umbrella fashion, and all find majority support. A Quinnipiac poll conducted July 27-Aug. 2 asked, "Do you support or oppose a $3.5 trillion spending bill on social programs such as child care, education, family tax breaks and expanding Medicare for seniors?" and found 62% support, 32% opposition. A Monmouth University poll conducted July 21-26 asked about both the initial infrastructure bill and the new $3.5 trillion bill, describing the latter this way: "A plan to expand access to healthcare and child care, and provide paid leave and college tuition support." The results were similar to the Quinnipiac poll, with 63% in favor and 35% opposed.
One issue with these types of questions is that respondents who are not very familiar with the subject under discussion (and I think this would be the significant majority in the case of the newly proposed legislation) are, in essence, responding to cues in the question wording as they decide how to answer. In this instance, however, differences in wording don't seem to make a lot of difference. The Quinnipiac poll mentioned the $3.5 trillion price tag, for example, while the Monmouth poll did not -- but answers were similar in both polls. Similarly, the Quinnipiac poll listed "child care, education, family tax breaks expanding Medicare for seniors," while the Monmouth poll included "a plan to expand access to healthcare and child care, and provide paid leave and college tuition support" -- again without any major effect on the responses. Both questions were selective in what they mentioned, of course; neither poll question, for example, included climate change or immigration.
A progressive think tank, Data for Progress, conducted an online poll among likely voters July 30-Aug. 2, with a much more detailed 130-word description of the bill, including in the question wording a bulleted list of six specific proposals in the plan, the $3.5 trillion price tag and even a description of the "reconciliation" procedure necessary to pass it. All of this (and the online mode, and the sample of likely voters as opposed to national adults) also didn't seem to make much difference; 66% of likely voters in their sample supported the plan as described, while 26% opposed it -- similar to the Quinnipiac and Monmouth results.
In short, existing survey evidence shows majority support for the new bill, and this level of support appears to be fairly robust across samples and ways of asking about it.
Public Opinion on the Individual Bill Components
It's impossible to track down polling on all of the elements in the Democratic budget plan, particularly because elements may be added and subtracted as the bill moves through both houses of Congress. But many of the elements on which there is polling appear to be favored by a majority of Americans. The aforementioned Data for Progress poll, for example, asked its online likely voter respondents about 12 specific proposals within the plan and found majority support for all, ranging from 81% for "investing in long-term care for seniors and people with disabilities" to 59% support for "creating a Civilian Climate Corps to add jobs to address climate change and conservation."
Gallup polling from a few years ago touched on a number of the types of provisions that are now included in the new Senate bill (the fact that we were polling on these proposals back then shows they have long been on Democratic wish lists). We found majority support for the following: requiring companies to provide family leave for parents after the birth of a child, requiring employers to provide all workers at least seven days of paid sick leave, requiring employers to provide at least 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave, and enacting free universal child care and pre-kindergarten programs for all children. The poll also found plurality support for free tuition at community colleges throughout America.
Gallup has found generally strong support for two other proposals included in the bill. The first is immigration reform, including the idea of finding a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants now living in the country. The second is generally strong support for an emphasis on continuing the development of alternative energy and pushing for its use.
Kaiser Family Foundation polling in 2019 found that 77% of Americans supported "allowing people between the ages of 50 to 64 to buy health insurance through Medicare," akin to a proposal included in the plan. In May of this year, Kaiser asked about priorities for Congress. Majorities of Americans said that both allowing the government to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices and expanding Medicare coverage to include dental, hearing aids and vision should be "top" priorities.
Pew Research recently found that 63% of Americans favor "making tuition at public colleges and universities free for all American students," which is a proposal even more far-reaching than the free community college tuition included in the bill at this point. (The Pew question wording did not mention that it would be the government paying for the tuition.)
In short, I think it's fair to say that many of the individual provisions included in the Senate budget plan receive majority support from the public when they are measured on a one-by-one basis. Americans, at least in theory, like the idea of good healthcare, good education, good jobs, good child care alternatives, a safe and clean environment, and solutions for the immigration situation.
And, although it is not explicitly a part of the bill, Americans generally approve of the idea of increasing taxes on the rich and wealthy and on big corporations -- the idea Democrats are advancing as the way to pay for the new policies.
Reasons to Oppose the Bill
At the same time, as I indicated above, there is strong opposition to the bill from Republican leaders. Some of their reasons for opposition are procedural, based on the assumption that sweeping, trillion-dollar legislation deserves extensive vetting and discussion in the full Senate rather than passage using reconciliation procedures. I'm not familiar with polling that addresses this argument directly, although we can assume that everything else being equal, the public would favor extended debate on any such major legislation before it is passed into law. Americans have historically expressed a desire for their elected representatives to compromise and work together, and I assume Americans would prefer the bipartisanship exhibited in the passage of the first infrastructure bill more than the strict party-line approach we are seeing on this one.
Republican leaders also oppose the bill on philosophic grounds. The quotes from Sens. Graham and Barrasso above are examples of the general talking points from Republicans that the bill represents continuing movement toward socialism, in the sense that it substantially increases federal government intervention into Americans' daily lives, taking over functions that critics say are best left to citizens and the private sector. This line of argument would appear to have potential resonance with Americans. Determining the appropriate role of government in Americans' lives is, in fact, an issue of concern for many Americans, and the word "socialist" continues to have a more negative than positive connotation for Americans.
There is also the argument over money -- that the massive price tag on the bill will raise the deficit and necessitate significant tax increases (Democrats say only for households making at least $400,000 a year and for corporations). Even a Democratic senator, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, has reservations about the huge price tag, saying, "I have serious concerns about the grave consequences facing West Virginians and every American family if Congress decides to spend another $3.5 trillion. Given the current state of the economic recovery, it is simply irresponsible to continue spending at levels more suited to respond to a Great Depression or Great Recession -- not an economy that is on the verge of overheating."
Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin echoed those thoughts: "They [Democrats] shouldn't be expecting Republicans to raise the debt ceiling to accommodate their deficit spending."
Gallup polling shows mixed feelings about the deficit as a general concept, but my review from earlier this year in the context of the massive stimulus bill then under consideration indicated that worries about the deficit were not a major factor in the public's thinking and didn't deter from their strong support for passing the legislation. Few Americans mention the deficit as the nation's most important problem, and polling shows its reduction is a low priority for the public.
Additionally, as noted, polling shows that Americans appear to be OK with increased taxes on the rich and on large corporations, the way in which Democrats have positioned their source of monies for the new bill.
Previous public opinion research has shown strong support for stimulus spending bills passed in the midst of the pandemic, and polling has long shown strong support for spending a trillion dollars or more on "hard infrastructure" legislation. In similar fashion, a review of initial polling on the idea of new legislation designed to inject $3.5 trillion into improving many elements of the nation's "soft infrastructure" -- including education, healthcare, child care, immigration and the environment -- also shows overall majority support.
Republican critics of the legislation may be able to affect public opinion if they hammer home the idea that the bill represents creeping socialism and the unwarranted interjection of the government into many more aspects of Americans' lives. Plus, opinions could shift if it becomes clear that the bill will require tax increases on the middle class and not just on the rich and on corporations. But the overall objectives of the legislation, at least in the abstract, are well-received -- and at this point, it would appear the Democrats have the upper hand when it comes to public support for their proposed budget plan.
To stay up to date with the latest Gallup News insights and updates, follow us on Twitter.