American public opinion and infrastructure legislation
Infrastructure is now in the limelight in Congress, with debate not so much on whether to pass an infrastructure bill, but rather on what form it should take.
We have the so-called “bipartisan” bill, developed by Republican and Democratic senators, and the progressive Democrats’ bill, championed by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders. The bipartisan bill mainly focuses on “hard” infrastructure such as roads, bridges and tunnels. The Progressive Democrats’ version extends attention to “soft” infrastructure such as expanded medicare, universal child care, climate change policies, social housing and immigration reform. These infrastructure bills would cost billions of dollars – the exact amount depends on who is doing the math and what is ultimately passed.
President Joe Biden said last week that he wanted both bills passed, but backed down over the weekend and now strongly supports the bipartisan bill. In Wisconsin earlier this week, he said: “After months of painstaking negotiations – listening, compromising together, and in good faith moving forward together, with ups and downs and a few hiccups – a bipartisan group of senators came together and they forged an agreement to move forward on the key priorities of my U.S. Jobs Plan.This is a generational investment, a generational investment to modernize our infrastructure, create millions well-paying jobs … and position America to compete with the rest of the world in the 21st century, because China is far ahead of us in terms of infrastructure. “
Always a good politician, Biden positions the virtues of the bill by tying it to broad goals that are difficult to argue with – creating millions of well-paying jobs and competing with China.
Not to be outdone, Sanders also attaches his progressive bill more expansive to the idea that it will create jobs, and goes even further, claiming that it fits perfectly with American public opinion: “This is what the American people want.” Virtually all of the proposals I have included in this budget are exactly what the Americans want. They want us to create millions of good paying jobs and do the other things that are long overdue. “
Having studied American public opinion for decades, I am always cautious of statements claiming that a policy or group of policies exactly matches public attitudes. Americans certainly want more jobs, I think you can tell, but are they okay with everything else? And besides, what is the public’s position on the basic bipartisan bill?
I have already noted the strong general interest of Americans in looking after the nation’s infrastructure, more recently summing up the data with the explicit title, “Infrastructure Action Should Be Obvious. My review included Gallup data from a few years ago showing that Americans agreed with proposals to “spend more federal money to improve infrastructure, including roads, buildings, and waterways” and “To adopt a $ 1,000 billion program to improve American infrastructure such as roads, bridges and tunnels.”
A recent sample study reaffirms these earlier findings, with continued majority support for infrastructure legislation through several different ways of asking questions on the issue.
A recent Yahoo News / YouGov poll, for example, told interviewees: “A group of 10 Republican and Democratic senators recently presented a compromise infrastructure plan that would only rebuild roads, bridges and other traditional infrastructure. and would cost $ 1.2 trillion “- and found significantly more in favor of the plan than against, albeit with a significant percentage of” not sure “(likely high because the question referred to a specific plan that respondents did not know much in particular).
A Monmouth University poll found 68% support for infrastructure funding in response to this question: “President Biden recently proposed a $ 2 trillion infrastructure plan to be spent on roads, bridges and trains, internet access, power grid upgrades and clean energy projects. general, do you support or oppose this plan? ” Washington post/ An ABC News poll in April found 52% support and 35% opposition to a “$ 2 trillion infrastructure development plan that the Biden administration has proposed.” A poll sponsored by the Yale Climate Change Communication Program found that 67% of registered voters supported a “major investment in the country’s infrastructure.”
These questions specify which elements of “hard” infrastructure would be included in the legislation or leave the term “infrastructure” undefined. Sanders, as noted, expands the definition of infrastructure to include “soft” infrastructure policies. My reading of the data is that Americans don’t seem to care. They like the idea of spending on both hard and soft infrastructure and are happy to include both in their understanding of what infrastructure entails.
The most informative research on this point comes from an interesting Marist / PBS NewsHour / NPR poll conducted in April. The survey asked Americans if they considered each of a list of specific actions to be “part of the country’s infrastructure.” Remarkably, each of the six elements listed – hard or soft – received an affirmative response from the majority of the public. These elements included roads, bridges and ports (96% saw them as part of the country’s infrastructure); the pipes that supply public drinking water (89%); the electricity network (85%); broadband internet service (62%); long-term health care (58%); and charging stations for electric vehicles (51%).
An NBC News poll in April combined both hard and soft infrastructure in a “kitchen sink” question: “Now I will describe the infrastructure plan backed by President Biden. This plan would repair and modernize transportation, water and energy systems. also expand broadband access, increase the wages of caregivers of the elderly and disabled, as well as provide funds for vocational training and other programs. Overall, do you think this plan is a good or a bad idea? Fifty-nine percent of Americans thought the plan was a good idea.
The Monmouth survey mentioned above focused on a strict plan (“roads, bridges and trains, Internet access, power grid improvements and clean energy projects”) and on a flexible plan (“expanding access to health care). health and child care, and providing paid time off and college tuition support “) and found 68% and 64% support for each, respectively. Monmouth pollsters then asked which of these two plans was the most important for the country The majority of respondents (54%) said that “both” were of equal importance.
All of these findings suggest that Americans have a fairly elastic definition of what is and is not infrastructure, and support both the hard and soft operationalizations of the term.
Further support for this conclusion is provided when we look at polls that directly ask questions about soft infrastructure proposals one by one. A CNBC poll conducted earlier this year, for example, found 75% support for government funding for child care, 57% support for public and state college tuition-free, and 54% support for “Medicare for All”. Other polls show similar majority support for paid family leave and universal child care.
In terms of climate change, my colleague Lydia Saad recently noted that “nearly nine in 10 Americans believe the effects of global warming will be felt by current or future generations” although opinions on the issue are highly polarized politically. And I pointed out in a review that “the vast majority of Americans seem to support the idea of putting less emphasis on fossil fuels, whether through laws that increase energy efficiency standards or discouraging the production of big polluters like coal “.
Regarding immigration, our data shows majority support for a comprehensive immigration policy that would include a path to citizenship.
In short, Americans – at least in the abstract – prefer to repair roads, bridges, tunnels and airports and also promote the expansion of social and health programs, the fight against climate change, immigration, etc. So it seems fair to say that there is general public support behind most of what various politicians have put under the rubric of infrastructure.
Americans are responding positively to the idea of new legislation to improve “infrastructure”, so it’s no surprise that politicians use it as an umbrella under which to promote funding for their various fields. of interest – in Sanders’ case, progressive policies affecting health, housing and inequality. Americans seem to agree with that. They are apparently willing to accept the idea that these more flexible policy areas can be seen as infrastructure elements, broadly defined, and furthermore express majority approval of the above. Sanders is, it seems, generally correct in noting that Americans support most of what he and others would like to see included in infrastructure legislation.
Having said that, I must note that despite this public support for infrastructure legislation, it does not appear to be a high priority for Americans. (It’s possible that recent media coverage of the collapsed condominium tower in Florida may increase the public’s sense of the importance of focusing on infrastructure.) In April, the Pew Research Center gave Americans a list of 15 different issues facing the nation and found that “the condition of roads, bridges and other infrastructure” finished third at the bottom of the list in terms of being perceived as “a very big problem.” In addition, infrastructure basically doesn’t appear at all in our Gallup updates on Americans’ most important perceptions of the most important problem facing the nation.
So Biden and the leaders of Congress find themselves in an interesting situation – strong public support for passing infrastructure legislation, however defined, when the public does not give it a high priority. Perhaps because a dysfunctional government is seen as the most important problem facing the nation at this point, Americans may be more positively impressed with Congress agreeing to pass infrastructure legislation than with it. details of what such legislation includes.