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Why the latest polls on Biden's infrastructure plans matter

If most Americans are comfortable with the price tag on a $3.5 trillion package, moderate Democrats in Congress should be able to endorse it, too.
Image: President Joe Biden leaves the White House for Camp David on June 25, 2021.
President Joe Biden leaves the White House for Camp David on June 25, 2021.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Elected officials routinely say they're uninterested in polls, focusing entirely on substantive ideas and their merits, but politicians also tend to care about making voters happy and winning elections -- which means public-opinion surveys can't be ignored.

With this in mind, as President Biden and congressional Democrats move forward with a debate over infrastructure investments, results like these, from the new Fox News poll, should generate quite a bit of interest.

Majorities like the infrastructure packages being considered by Washington lawmakers. Sixty-two percent favor the $1 trillion U.S. Senate package that focuses on roads, bridges, and rail service, and 56 percent favor the additional items such as climate change and childcare included in the U.S. House's $3.5 trillion package.

The findings are roughly in line with the available data from other recent national surveys. A Monmouth poll from late July, for example, found 70% support for the bipartisan package, and 63% for the more ambitious expansion of the safety net. A Quinnipiac poll from last week, meanwhile, found 65% support for the bipartisan infrastructure proposal, and 62% for Democrats' reconciliation plan.

For proponents of the bill that passed the Senate this week -- a package that focuses on priorities such as bridges, broadband, and transit -- the strong public support should help bring the legislation closer to becoming law. Indeed, White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain boasted late last week, "I've been doing this a long time. I can recall few things as significant -- and as widely and well-supported -- as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill."

But while the "human infrastructure" bill -- which would invest in health care, child care, housing, education, climate, et al. -- doesn't enjoy quite the same level of support, it's pretty close, and each of the recent national surveys show a majority of Americans endorsing the plan.

For on-the-fence Democrats on Capitol Hill, this really ought to matter.

In the Senate, members such West Virginia's Joe Manchin and Arizona's Kyrsten Sinema haven't raised specific objections about individual provisions in the package, but they've made no secret of the fact that they see the top-line price tag as a tough pill to swallow. In the House, a relatively small group of House Democratic moderates are on board with the bipartisan infrastructure package, but they, too, have signaled discomfort with the reconciliation blueprint -- not because its goals are misguided, but because the proposal is so expensive.

And that's precisely what makes the polls so notable. The wording of Fox News' survey specifically referenced the $3.5 trillion price tag. Monmouth's poll asked respondents about the Democrats' "multi-trillion dollar spending plans." Quinnipiac pressed people on whether they support or oppose "a $3.5 trillion spending bill on social programs."

In each of these polls, a majority of Americans gave the plan a thumbs up.

If most Americans are comfortable with the price tag on a $3.5 trillion package, moderate Democrats in Congress should be able to endorse it, too.