Dem doom? Americans more likely to say infrastructure bills will hurt them than help

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

The old CW: Democrats are killing Terry McAuliffe by not passing an infrastructure bill before Election Day.

The new CW: Terry McAuliffe caught a lucky break by Democrats not passing an unpopular infrastructure bill before Election Day.

It’s easy to predict the reactions to this striking poll result from ABC. The media will fret that Dems are doing a poor job of selling their wonderful bill. Dems will fume that the media itself hasn’t sufficiently covered what’s in the bill. And meanwhile independents will continue to shout into the void that they’re less interested in trillions in new spending than they are in getting inflation, the supply chain, and COVID under control.

Joe Biden and his party are counting on passage of the infrastructure package to revive his political fortunes. What if it actually makes things worse?

Although a majority (55%) of the public is following news about the negotiations at least somewhat closely, about 7 in 10 (69%) Americans said they know just some or little to nothing about what’s in both bills

The ABC News/Ipsos poll, which was conducted using Ipsos’ KnowledgePanel, found that a plurality (32%) of Americans think the bills would hurt people like them if they became law, while fewer (25%) think it would help them. Nearly 2 in 10 (18%) think the bills would make no difference, and 24% said they didn’t know.

Even among Democrats alone, fewer than half (47%) think the two bills would help people like them. A quarter of Democrats think the bills would make no difference for people like them and about 2 in 10 (22%) don’t know how they would impact their lives. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of Republicans think the bills would hurt people like them, and so do about 3 in 10 (29%) independents.

Three weeks ago, a CBS poll found a mere 43 percent of Americans had at least a general sense of what’s in the reconciliation bill and just 36 percent thought the bill would help them and their family (versus 33 percent who thought it would hurt). Today’s ABC data suggests that three weeks of intense coverage have done little to convince Americans that the bill is a good idea. If anything, voters may like it less now than they did at the start of October.

The splashiest number from that CBS survey was that only 37 percent of Americans thought Biden and the Democrats were focused on issues they care a lot about. Other recent polling also shows a mismatch between what the left wants and what everyone else wants:

An electorate that believes its government isn’t prioritizing correctly is an electorate primed to believe that the country’s on the wrong track. NBC has a poll out this morning confirming that — to a staggering degree.

Also in the NBC News poll, 71 percent of Americans say they believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, up 8 points since August.

That includes 93 percent of Republicans, 70 of independents and even 48 percent of Democrats.

“When you see a wrong track of 71 percent, it is a flashing red light,” said McInturff, the GOP pollster. “These folks are telling us that this is not going well.”

Biden’s job approval in that poll stands at 42/54, down seven points since August despite the fact that Democrats have spent the past few months laser-focused on trying to pass his agenda. Interestingly, NBC finds that most of that decline has come from his own base. The hopeful spin on that for liberals is that their side will perk up again once something finally passes. The 25/32 split in public opinion on infrastructure in ABC’s survey is hardly insurmountable, after all; Dems can tell themselves that at least a third of the country (i.e. Republicans) will oppose anything they do and meanwhile there’s plenty of room for support to grow over the next year. They have to pass the bill for the public to know what’s in it, as someone once famously said.

The tricky part is that the party disagrees internally over how to make itself more popular. Centrists want to tighten their belts, believing that endless spending amid rising inflation will spook swing voters. Progressives believe the answer is — what else? — more spending, with swing voters sure to reward the party as more taxpayer-funded goodies are showered on the public. The progressive view has numerous problems, though, starting with the fact that there’s evidence in polling that Americans already think government is overextended. We’re likely to get more evidence of that in 48 hours, as anything short of a comfortable McAuliffe win in Virginia will be read as a sign that swing voters are trending right.

Beyond that, by asking for the sun, the moon, and the stars in reconciliation and being forced to settle for only one or two of those three, the left has guaranteed that its base will be disappointed with whatever it ends up getting in the bill. “Progressives fear compromise could jeopardize midterm hopes,” reads a headline today at The Hill, with one progressive activist telling the paper it’s “appalling and frankly cruel that drug pricing, paid leave, Medicare expansion on dental and vision, are all cut from the framework, and Biden seems willing to leave a pathway to citizenship for millions up to an unelected parliamentarian.” Dems are going to pass a package worth upwards of $2 trillion, alienating the middle, only to find that they’ve alienated their core voters too by not going bigger.

Biden has reportedly taken to assuring lefties in the House that even if they don’t get everything they want this time, he’ll spend the rest of his presidency trying to get the rest of it. That’s an empty promise, of course: There’s no reason to believe Joe Manchin will be more willing to spend next year, as inflation climbs and the political climate turns more Republican, than he was this fall. But this is what Biden’s forced to resort to in the name of cheering up his base as they stand on the brink of trillions in new spending, essentially telling them, “Sorry we didn’t pass the stuff you really care about.” No wonder no one likes the bill.

Underlying Democratic angst about the infrastructure process is a growing fear that Biden’s just not very good at the whole politics thing. Read this amusing Politico piece about Pelosi and her deputies being shocked on Thursday when he attended their caucus meeting to make the case to progressives that it was time to pass the bipartisan bill and then … didn’t make that case. He never asked them to pass the bill despite McAuliffe’s desperation in Virginia. He actually told one House Dem in a phone call that he wasn’t asking them to pass it. In fact, says Politico, multiple Dems called the White House to clarify whether Biden was telling them to pass the bill and couldn’t get a straight answer. Pelosi and the centrists were hung out to dry. Virginia might flip as a result.

Go figure that in NBC’s poll today just 37 percent rated him highly when asked if he’s competent and effective as president. “The promise of the Biden presidency — knowledge, competence and stability in tough times — have all been called into question,” said one pollster who worked on the survey. Said another, “What people voted for was stability and calm. And what they got was instability and chaos.”