An overwhelming majority of voters are opposed to cutting off extended jobless benefits for the unemployed, a poll revealed on Monday. The left-leaning Public Policy Polling surveyed voters in four key congressional districts, as well as House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) district, to gauge support for extending unemployment benefits. The poll, funded by the liberal advocacy group Americans United for Change, showed that voters across party lines were overwhelmingly in favor of extending the benefits, with 63 to 68 percent of voters in each district expressing support for preserving jobless benefits. Voters in the four districts surveyed said they were less likely to vote for the Republican incumbent in 2014 -- by at least a 9-point margin -- were he to vote to cut off extended unemployment benefits.
In just five days, federal emergency unemployment benefits will expire for 1.3 million struggling Americans, and with Congress having left town, there is no doubt that we'll go over the so-called "unemployment cliff." Senate Democrats intend to renew the fight in the new year, but that doesn't change the fact that the Dec. 28 deadline will go unmet.
In terms of the economic impact, if Congress ignores President Obama's call for action and allows jobless aid to lapse despite high unemployment, independent estimates suggest the policy will cost the nation upwards of 300,000 jobs over the next year.
But for many policymakers, most notably on the right, this may not seem especially alarming. Perhaps they'll be more concerned with the electoral fallout?
The polling memo is available online here (pdf). The specific wording of the question was, "Congress is considering whether to continue or cut off federal unemployment benefits for workers whose state unemployment benefits have ended but cannot find a job. Do you think that Congress should continue or cut off federal unemployment benefits at this time?"
Note that the districts polled were California's 31st (represented by Gary Miller), Colorado's 6th (Mike Coffman), Illinois' 13th (Rodney Davis), Michigan's 1st (Dan Benishek), and Ohio's 8th, Boehner's home district. The results were extremely similar in each area.
Jeremy Funk, communications director for Americans United for Change, said in a statement, "Speaker Boehner and fellow Washington Republicans are hopelessly out-of-touch, and their decision to Scrooge over a million unemployed Americans three days after Christmas is the latest and among the worst examples of it.... It's not just in America's economic interest to extend UI benefits, these polls show it's in swing district Republicans' own political interest to support the jobless in their districts. Otherwise they just might join their ranks."
In the larger context, Republican leaders have already said they have a plan for the 2014 midterms, much of it focusing on making the cycle a referendum on President Obama, not them. Polls like these are a reminder that there are plenty of economic issues that pack a potent electoral punch, whether GOP officials want to talk about them or not.