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Why the popularity of Joe Biden's policy agenda matters

Joe Biden's policy agenda is quite popular with the public. That's more than just a political curiosity.
Image: Joe Biden
Joe Biden smiles after signing a series of executive orders on health care, in the Oval Office of the White House, on Jan. 28, 2021.Evan Vucci / AP

When it comes to his approval rating, President Joe Biden is off to a good start, but his popularity is nothing compared to the public support for his COVID relief package. As CNBC explained:

President Joe Biden's coronavirus rescue plan, and two of its key economic provisions, have broad support as Democrats try to push it through Congress, a poll released Wednesday found. More than two-thirds, or 68%, of Americans support the $1.9 trillion package, the Quinnipiac University survey showed.

The conventional wisdom is that the nation is deeply and evenly divided, making it difficult for anyone or anything to enjoy broad support. But while there's no denying Americans' political divisions, surveys like these suggest some proposals are capable of generating consensus support, or at least something close to it.

Indeed, the latest Quinnipiac poll offered the White House quite a bit of good news, with sizable majorities endorsing much of the Biden agenda, including 61% support for increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, and 63% support for rejoining the Paris climate accord.

But given the ongoing debate over Biden's COVID relief plan, it's the polling data on the proposal that has the greatest political salience right now. Quinnipiac not only found 68% support for the president's blueprint in general, the same results found 78% support for $1,400 direct-aid checks, which is a key element of Biden's proposal.

As for why polls like these matter, there are a few angles to keep in mind. For one thing, getting the ambitious relief plan through Congress won't be easy, but the task would be vastly more difficult if survey data showed the public against the plan. On other words, the Quinnipiac data should help stiffen Democratic spines.

For another, Team Biden is eager to put this data to good use. White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain, pointing to related survey results, recently argued that the new president's agenda "is a bipartisan agenda" -- a point Klain reemphasized this morning.

The White House chief of staff is clearly aware of the larger context: there are some Democrats who are desperate to see Biden's relief package enjoy bipartisan backing, and may even base their votes on whether they see Republicans backing it. Klain is effectively reminding those Dems, "See? Polls like these prove that the plan enjoys broad political backing," checking the "bipartisan" box.

Finally, there are GOP lawmakers themselves to consider. With poll results like these, some Republicans -- probably not a lot, but some -- will feel pressure to vote for Biden's plan.

Consider the landscape lawmakers will likely soon face: in the midst of widespread economic challenges, and against a backdrop of a deadly pandemic, a popular relief bill that's likely to give the economy a dramatic boost will soon come to the floor.

If you're a GOP incumbent who's concerned at all about your re-election prospects, and you have reason to believe this relief package is likely to pass whether you like it or not, wouldn't you think long and hard about backing the bill nearly seven in 10 Americans want?

And wouldn't you wonder about the kind of attack ads you'll face if you don't?