PRINCETON, NJ -- Somewhere between the $161 billion economic stimulus package the House of Representatives passed a week ago, and the $204 billion alternative now being pushed by Senate Democrats, is a combination of tax rebates and incentives that Washington's leaders hope will boost the nation's economy.
According to a new USA Today/Gallup poll, the American public is hoping the same thing. While there is some public opposition to the idea, nearly three-quarters of Americans (73%) are in favor of federal legislation aimed at stimulating economic growth.
The reason for this broad support is clear. Ongoing Gallup polling of consumer confidence finds two-thirds of Americans holding negative views of economic conditions -- saying the economy is less than good and either staying that way or getting worse. (See "Gallup Daily: Tracking Consumer Confidence" in Related Items.) The new USA Today/Gallup survey, conducted Jan. 30-Feb. 2, finds relatively few Americans saying the economy is "in a depression," but 33% believe it is in a recession and another 46% say it is slowing down.
Widespread Support by Party, Ideology, and Income
Just as the federal effort to pass a stimulus package has been largely bipartisan -- the House bill passed on a vote of 385 to 35 -- Republicans and Democrats nationwide are equally likely to favor the proposal.
There is also broad support at all household income levels, ranging from 67% among those earning less than $20,000 per year to 81% among those earning $50,000 to less than $75,000.
The greatest variation in support for an economic stimulus package is seen by political ideology. Those at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum -- calling themselves "very conservative" or "very liberal" -- are most likely to say they oppose it; however, the majority of all ideological groups are in favor.
Income-Capped Tax Relief a Crowd Pleaser
The centerpiece of both the House and Senate stimulus plans is direct cash payments to Americans, aimed at spurring consumer spending. The House plan calls for roughly $100 billion in income tax rebates, ranging from $600 per person making less than $75,000 per year to $1,200 per married couple earning less than $150,000, plus an additional $300 per child. It includes payments of $300 per person and $600 per couple for those making too little to pay federal income taxes.
This focus on tax relief for lower- and middle-income Americans is right in line with public opinion. More than four in five Americans say they favor proposals either lowering the federal income tax rate for Americans in these income brackets (87%) or giving them tax rebates (84%).
Other broadly popular stimulus proposals -- some included in the House plan, others not -- are increasing spending on U.S. infrastructure such as roads and bridges, giving tax breaks and tax incentives to businesses that invest in new equipment and technologies, and lowering the federal income tax rates for all Americans. At least two-thirds of Americans support each of these. More than half also support extending unemployment benefits and providing citizens with certain protections against home foreclosures (the details of which match those proposed by Hillary Clinton in January.)
Only one proposal tested in the new survey is opposed by a majority of Americans: giving tax rebates to Americans regardless of income.
A large majority of Americans across the ideological spectrum -- ranging from very conservative to very liberal -- are in favor of lowering tax rates for low- and middle-income families, for giving tax rebates to these two groups, and for increasing government spending on infrastructure. At least two-thirds of Americans of all ideologies favor each of these.
Liberals show less support than conservatives for giving federal tax breaks to businesses and for lowering federal income tax rates for all Americans. Very few liberals favor giving tax rebates to almost all Americans regardless of income. In fact, the only group to show majority support for this is those calling themselves very conservative.
Conservatives show less support than liberals for extending unemployment benefits, and for instituting protections against home foreclosures.
These results are based on telephone interviews with 2,020 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Jan. 30-Feb. 2, 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2 percentage points.
For results based on the sample of 867 Republicans or Republican leaners, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
For results based on the sample of 985 Democrats or Democratic leaners, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.