As congressional Democrats negotiate the size and scope of a budget bill that could significantly remake the social safety net in the United States, a new CNN Poll conducted by SSRS finds 75% of the party’s rank-and-file prefer a bill that goes further to expand the social safety net and combat climate change over one that costs less and enacts fewer of those policies (20% favor a scaled-back bill).
Support for an economic bill that enacts all of the proposed social safety net and climate change policies is broadest among liberal Democrats (84%), but two-thirds of moderates and conservatives in the party share that view (67%). Despite this relative agreement, the poll also suggests a near-even split among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents over which faction in this intraparty debate is doing more to help the party overall.
Political independents are closely divided on what Congress ought to do with the economic bill, with 36% saying lawmakers should pass a more comprehensive bill, 32% that they should pass a smaller bill, and another 32% that they should pass nothing at all.
Independents’ views, however, largely depend on which party they feel closest to: Most independents who lean toward the Democratic Party say Congress should pass the full bill (56%), while most who lean toward the Republican Party say Congress shouldn’t pass any version of the bill (60%).
Overall, 41% of Americans say they would rather see Congress pass an economic bill that enacts all of the proposed social safety net and climate change policies over one that enacts fewer of those policies and costs less. Thirty percent favor a scaled-down bill, and another 29% say they would like Congress to not pass any version of the bill, a sentiment driven largely by Republicans, 55% of whom would prefer to see the entire bill scrapped.
Amid the ongoing debate over key pieces of his agenda and on the back end of a challenging stretch in the coronavirus pandemic, Americans are divided over President Joe Biden’s approval rating. In the new poll, 50% approve while 49% disapprove, largely unchanged from a CNN poll conducted in August and September. The public also splits over whether Biden has done more during his time in office to unite the country (51%) or divide it (49%).
Highlighting the challenge facing Democrats trying to make a case for the bills, the poll finds relatively few see this package of an economic bill and an infrastructure bill as one that would help them personally. If Congress were to pass both bills, only about a quarter (25%) say their family would be better off, while 32% say they would be worse off and 43% say they would be about the same. And the share saying they would not be affected by these bills rises among several groups critical to Democratic electoral success, including independent women (59%), Black people (58%), those younger than age 35 (54%), Latino people (51%) and moderates (50%).
Few Americans, regardless of political affiliation, are raptly tuned into the congressional negotiations – just 16% of the public, including fewer than one-fifth in either party, say they’ve been following the news very closely, and 42% Americans say they haven’t followed the story too closely, or at all. By way of comparison to a more widely followed story, in December 2019, 42% of Americans were following the congressional impeachment hearings against then-President Donald Trump very closely, and only about one-quarter said they weren’t paying much attention.
For the most part, both attentive and less-engaged Americans hold similar opinions on how Congress should act. But those who aren’t following the debate closely are roughly two times likelier than those who are to say the bills’ passage wouldn’t have much effect on their family. Among partisans, attentive Democrats are more likely than those paying less attention to say the bills would help their family, while Republicans who are at least somewhat tuned in are more likely than their less-engaged counterparts to say that the bills would hurt them.
Divisions in the Democratic Party
Negotiations over the economic bill have pitted moderate Democrats in the Senate – where the Democrats’ narrow majority means a single defecting senator could doom the bill’s prospects – against liberal Democratic members of the House. But Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents in the poll do not view the party as divided. Just 26% of that group say they see the party as mostly divided rather than mostly united – comparable to the 30% of Republicans and Republican-leaners who see the GOP as mostly divided.
Still, the Democratic electorate does not agree over which side of the debate is doing more to help the party: 49% say that progressives trying to enact ambitious liberal policies are doing more for the Democrats, while 51% give more credit to moderates trying to contain government spending.
Views within the party are divided along ideological lines, but far from universally so: Self-described liberals side, 64% to 36%, with the goal of ambitious liberal policies, while moderates and conservatives line up 61% to 39% behind those focused on containing government spending. There’s also a generational divide, with those younger than age 45 favoring the progressives and those 45 and older siding with the moderates.
The poll also finds that there isn’t even universal alignment between what Democrats and Democratic-leaners say they want for the bill and what they feel is most helpful for the party. Among those who favor a broader bill enacting all of the proposed social safety net and climate change policies, 60% say progressives are doing more to help the party and 40% say moderates are. Those Democrats who favor a slimmed-down bill break 74% saying the moderates are doing more to help and 26% saying the progressives are.
More than 8 in 10 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say they approve of the way Biden is handling these negotiations (82% approve, 18% disapprove). Among those who disapprove, 37% say Biden isn’t doing enough to back the moderates in Congress, vs. 3 in 10 who say he isn’t going far enough to support the progressives (30%).
Views on Congress
Congressional approval has dipped slightly since April, with 27% now saying they approve of the way Congress is handling its job (down from 31%) and 73% disapproving (up from 64%). Although that number is deeply negative, it is better than congressional approval in CNN polling through much of the last decade; the last time Congress received a net-positive job approval rating in that polling was in 2004.
Americans are also split over whether Democratic control of Congress is good for the country (36%) or bad for it (38%). About a quarter say it’s neither good nor bad (26%).
Still, most say that their own member of Congress deserves reelection (55% say so), even as the public has a harsher judgment for partisan members. More than 6 in 10 (63%) say most Republican members do not deserve reelection, while a majority say the same about most Democratic members (54%). Democrats are more likely to say members of Congress of their own party deserve reelection (80%) than are Republicans (65%).
The CNN Poll was conducted by SSRS October 7 through 11 among a random national sample of 1,000 adults interviewed online after being recruited using probability-based methods. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points, it is larger for subgroups.