Any careful reckoning would conclude that polling on massive, multipart legislative packages is beset by problems.
Our typical notion of public opinion assumes people hold views in their heads which polls simply measure. Often though, we aren’t measuring public attitudes but creating them, by asking votes to develop opinions on the spot, in response to our questions.
While academics debate the prevalence of this phenomenon, it’s certainly the case with 500-page bills. No voter could possibly know all the policy choices, programs and funding sources contained in these legislative tomes, so they can’t possibly have a real, pre-existing preference for or against them.
An NPR-PBS-Marist poll posed a broad question, “President Biden announced his American Jobs Plan, a $2.3 trillion plan intended to address infrastructure, climate change, and job creation. From what you’ve read or heard, do you support or oppose this plan?”
A 56 percent majority favored the plan, while 34 percent opposed it, and the rest had no opinion.
Navigator used different wording for a similarly general question, “do you support or oppose President Biden and a bipartisan group of Senators passing a new infrastructure plan to improve roads and bridges, expand power infrastructure, increase passenger and rail access, expand broadband access, and improve water infrastructure?”
Sixty-six percent supported the plan, 22 percent opposed it.
Morning Consult and Politico asked yet a third version, with no definition of infrastructure: “As you may know, President Biden has introduced a $2.3 trillion plan to improve America’s infrastructure. Do you support or oppose Biden’s infrastructure plan?”
The response? Fifty-two percent were in favor, 34 percent were opposed.
Each of these questions has flaws, but all lead to the same conclusion: a majority of Americans support the president’s infrastructure plan.
Is it a 52 percent majority, a 66 percent majority or somewhere in between? That’s hard to know. But it’s easy to recognize that Americans support action on infrastructure.
Of course, one critique of some of these questions is that they conflate what are, now, two different plans — one for so-called hard infrastructure, the other for “soft” infrastructure.
AP-NORC, among other polls, allows us to separate the two strands. They ask about 12 specific components of the plan and find pluralities favoring all dozen, and majorities supporting 11 of the 12.
Eighty-three percent support “funding for roads, bridges and ports,” and 79 percent back funds for “pipes that supply public drinking water.” Sixty-six percent want “funding for the electric grid and 62% for broadband internet service.”
On the soft side? Three quarters favor “funding for caregivers for the nation’s elderly,” while 67 percent support “funding for preschool programs,” and 55 percent for “expanded child tax credits.”
It’s easy for poll respondents to spend money; what about paying for their programmatic preferences? Here too, multiple questions from multiple pollsters lead to the same conclusion.
AP-NORC found 66 percent in favor of raising taxes on corporations to pay for these improvements and 64 percent supporting higher taxes on households making more than $400,000 a year.
NPR-PBS-Marist found a nearly identical 64 percent supporting higher taxes on those making over $400,000 and a 49 percent plurality favoring increasing the current corporate tax rate above 21 percent.
Morning Consult pegged support for a 25 percent corporate tax rate at 50 percent, with just 32 percent opposed. Fifty-seven percent favored a minimum 15 percent tax rate for all corporations.
By now you’re drowning in numbers.
If you poke your head above the surface and look around you’ll see two clear conclusions: Americans support a substantial increase in infrastructure spending, both hard and soft, while also favoring the tax increases required to fund these ambitious plans.
Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has helped elect 30 U.S. senators, 12 governors and dozens of House members. Mellman served as pollster to Senate Democratic leaders for over 20 years, as president of the American Association of Political Consultants, and is president of Democratic Majority for Israel.