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Democratic Spin on Bipartisan Support for American Jobs Plan

Several independent studies show strong bipartisan support for many of the main spending components of the $2.7 trillion American Jobs Plan. Still, those polls also show most Republicans oppose the overall plan, particularly its call for infrastructure spending to be offset by higher corporate taxes.

Nonetheless, the Biden administration has publicly embraced a survey from partisan organizations that are advocating the plan. The administration says it shows broad public support for the plan, even among Republicans.

Polling experts say partisan polls should give readers pause, especially when their results run contrary to other independent polls, as is the case here.

The survey being cited by some Biden administration officials comes from Data for Progress and Invest in America, which listed seven components of the American Jobs Plan and then asked respondents if they support or oppose the entire American Jobs Plan. Among likely voters, 73% said they support the plan, including 57% of Republicans.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who has cited the survey on Twitter as evidence the plan has “strong bipartisan support,” also touted such support several times on “Fox News Sunday” on April 11:

Buttigieg, April 11: And that’s one of the reasons why there’s such extraordinary Republican and independent and Democratic support for this package among the American people. …

And it’s part of why, again, the American Jobs Plan has such remarkable support among Republicans, independents and Democrats across the country, maybe not yet in the Republican establishment here in Washington, but around the country, this bill is already enormously popular. …

I mean, it’s very rare to find any legislation that this high of a proportion of Republicans, independents and Democrats across the country believe we ought to pass. So that tells us we’ve got to be on the right track here.

On April 6, the White House put out a press release with the headline, “An Overwhelming Majority of Voters Support President Biden’s American Jobs Plan — Including a Majority of Republicans.”

Citing the Data for Progress and Invest in America survey, the release states that the American Jobs Plan is “overwhelmingly popular with Americans of both parties.” Specifically, it states, “73% of respondents, including 67% of Independents and 57% of Republicans, support the American Jobs Plan.”

A Partisan Survey

The first red flag for readers should be the groups that conducted the survey. A guide published by the National Council on Public Polls titled, “20 Questions A Journalist Should Ask About Poll Results,” says the first question should be: “Who did the poll?” The second question: “Who paid for the poll and why was it done?”

The “About Us” page for Invest in America makes clear the organization’s aims: “Invest In America is a campaign-style operation to influence the national debate in favor of robust public investment — both to combat the coronavirus crisis in the short-term and to create growth and prosperity in the long-term. We’re aggressively making the case that bold action from our government is both urgently needed and overwhelmingly popular — and that prioritizing deficit reduction and budget cuts are neither smart politics nor good policy.” Most of its employees have experience in Democratic campaigns.

Data for Progress says on its website that its aim is to use data science “to support progressive activists and causes.” It is also run by people with experience in Democratic party politics.

In other words, “it’s not nonpartisan, they have skin in the game,” said Patricia Moy, a communications professor at the University of Washington and vice president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research.

As we said, other independent polls have not shown nearly the level of support for the American Jobs Plan among Republicans as the Data for Progress/Invest in America poll did.

“It’s all about question wording,” Moy said, what is included and what is not.

Here’s the Data for Progress/Invest in America question:

The American Jobs Plan is a proposal to spend $2.25 trillion on infrastructure investments over eight years. The plan includes funding for the following:

  • Repairing roads, bridges, and schools
  • Repairing drinking water systems
  • Investing in American manufacturing
  • Expanding internet service
  • Modernizing America’s electrical grid
  • Creating millions of good-paying jobs in a modern American energy sector
  • Funding the cleanup of mines and abandoned gas wells

Do you support or oppose the American Jobs Plan?

By our calculation, using a breakdown of spending provided by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, those listed items make up, generously, a little more than half the spending in the bill. Although the plan has not received any support among Republican legislators in Congress, most of those lawmakers have said they would support a much smaller bill, more focused on traditional infrastructure such as roads and bridges. And they oppose the plan to pay for it all by raising corporate taxes.

As we have written, Democrats have taken a more expansive view of infrastructure to include such things as elder care, child care, and research and development.

The Data for Progress/Invest in America poll does not include some of the components Republicans are less likely to support, such as investments in development of electric cars, building and retrofitting energy efficient public housing, and investments in public transit and Amtrak.

Nor does the survey make any mention of how the infrastructure spending would be funded. The Biden plan calls for raising the top corporate tax rate from 21% to 28% and hiking other corporate taxes, things that Republican legislators have argued would hurt the economy and cost jobs.

Other Survey Results

Survey questions that include the pay-fors return much less favorable responses from Republicans. And surveys that link the American Jobs Plan to President Joe Biden also show less support from Republicans.

For example, a survey commissioned by the New York Times and conducted by SurveyMonkey April 5 through 11 asked two questions related to the American Jobs Plan.

The first, “Do you approve or disapprove of the American Jobs Plan, President Biden’s proposal to spend $2 trillion over the next 10 years to improve the country’s infrastructure, including that related to transportation, power, drinking water, and broadband internet?”

Although 64% overall said they somewhat or strongly approved the plan (including a whopping 96% of Democrats), just 29% of Republicans said they supported it.

In a follow-up question, the survey asked, “Are you more or less likely to approve of the American Jobs Plan if it were funded in part by increasing the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%?” To that, 65% of Republicans said they would be less likely to support it.

A Quinnipiac poll conducted April 8 to 12 asked, “Do you support or oppose President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan?” It found 44% overall said they supported it (38% said they opposed it). Among Republicans, only 14% said they supported it, and 71% opposed it.

A follow-up question found slightly higher support when respondents were asked. “If it was funded by raising taxes on corporations, would you support or oppose President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan?” In that scenario (which is what Biden has proposed), 53% overall said they supported it, including 22% of Republicans.

Biden and other members of the administration have been a bit more careful than Buttigieg, saying that a bipartisan majority supports many of the major spending components of the plan.

“We need to do this. It’s bipartisan,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a daily press briefing on April 8. “We know that Republicans and Democrats — it’s a joke in Washington, Infrastructure Week. And Democrats and Republicans have been making that joke, but it’s not a joke anymore. We need to get it done. And there is bipartisan support for these elements — these basic elements.”

In remarks on April 2, Biden said, “Polls already show strong support for infrastructure investment for the American people, whether they’re Democrats, Republicans, or independents.”

And in a speech about the American Jobs Plan on April 7, Biden said that an “overwhelming majority of the American people — Democrats, Republicans, and independents — support infrastructure investments that meets the moment.”

It’s true that polls show a majority of Republicans support some types of infrastructure investments.

A Morning Consult poll broke down a number of components of the plan, and asked respondents if they supported the provisions. With regard to the plan’s call to spend “$115 billion to modernize highways, roads, and streets,” 77% of registered voters, including 71% of Republicans said they supported it.

There was also strong bipartisan support for spending “$400 billion to improve caregiving for aging and disabled individuals,” for spending “$45 billion to replace all lead water pipes and service lines,” for “$100 billion to build and improve public schools” and for spending “$18 billion to modernize veterans’ hospitals.”

But less than a majority of Republicans said they supported such things as “[m]odernizing and repairing public transportation, including $80 billion for Amtrak and $85 billion for local public transit,” or “$174 billion to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles, including expanding the electric vehicle charging network and electrifying both U.S. Postal Service vehicles and public buses” (60% of Republicans said they opposed that, including 39% who strongly opposed it).

Less then a majority of Republicans supported other components, such as “$16 billion to plug abandoned (’orphaned’) oil and gas wells and restore abandoned coal, hard rock, and uranium mines”; “$213 billion towards building, renovating, and retrofitting affordable and energy efficient housing units”; and “$100 billion to increase access to, and the affordability of, high-speed broadband internet.”

As for the more general question — “Do you support or oppose Biden’s infrastructure plan?” — 60% overall said they support it, but only 35% of Republicans. A higher percentage, 44% of Republicans, said they oppose it. Republican opposition seemed at least in part tied to funding the plan through higher corporate taxes. Among Republicans, 47% said they “support making improvements to America’s infrastructure, but only if these improvements can be funded without increases to the corporate tax rate.”

Other surveys have also found a partisan divide over the plan. A Yahoo News/YouGov poll conducted April 6 to 8 asked respondents if they would support or oppose “another big legislative package to invest in America’s infrastructure and combat climate change.” Among all respondents, 51% said they would support it, but only 22% of Republicans said so (58% said they opposed it).

In addition, the poll found a majority of Americans — including Democrats, independents and Republicans — support investing in the construction of roads, bridges, rail lines and ports, and electricity grid improvements.

But Republicans part ways when it comes to clean energy. As Linley Sanders, a senior data journalist for YouGov wrote, “Biden starts to lose Republican backing on climate change initiatives, such as investing in clean energy to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change (31% favor, 51% oppose) or building 1 million affordable and energy-efficient housing units (31% favor, 51% oppose).”

A Reuters/Ipsos poll, taken from March 31 to April 1 and released April 2, showed that there was broad bipartisan support for repairing or replacing American ports, railways, bridges and highways, and investing in home-based care for the elderly or disabled. However, there was less support among Republicans for incentives or tax credits for development of clean or renewable energy, and for increasing taxes on corporations and large businesses to pay for infrastructure improvements.

The Biden administration can certainly claim that some components of the American Jobs Plan enjoy strong bipartisan support, but Buttigieg spins the facts in claiming there’s “extraordinary Republican” support for the entire plan.

As Moy put it: “Survey research is one part art and one part science.”

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