Friday, January 30, 2009
Public support for the economic recovery plan working its way through Congress is modest, but the proposal is likely to pass for a very simple reason: Voters want to give President Obama the benefit of the doubt.
Overall, just 42% of voters support the plan and 39% are opposed. The lines have been drawn neatly along partisan and ideological lines. For liberals, it’s a spending opportunity they’ve dreamed of for a long time. For conservatives, it may seem like an ongoing nightmare after the enormous spending increases under a Republican president.
But the key to passage of the recovery plan lies not with the committed partisans, but with the 19% of voters who remain undecided about the plan.
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The defining feature of these voters is that they like Obama—73% approve of the way Obama has handled the role of president so far. That figure includes 33% who Strongly Approve. Just 24% disapprove and only eight percent (8%) Strongly Disapprove. These voters may not be convinced about the plan itself, but they are willing to follow Obama’s lead.
Looked at from a different perspective, voters who Strongly Approve of Obama’s performance to date favor the economic recovery plan by an 81% to four percent (4%) margin. Those who Somewhat Approve are more evenly divided—32% favor the recovery plan, 31% oppose it, and 36% are not sure.
As for those who disapprove of the President’s performance, just four percent (4%) favor the recovery plan and 84% are opposed.
American voters generally view tax cuts as good for the economy, and Obama promised tax cuts for 95% of voters as a key part of his winning campaign last fall. By Election Day, voters thought they were more likely to get a tax cut from Obama than from his Republican opponent John McCain. That’s a stunning reversal of the traditional partisan perceptions. Obama’s willingness to keep tax cuts as a key part of the recovery plan is a way to honor his campaign commitment and provide underlying support for the legislation, even though his $350 billion for tax cuts has been whittled down to $275 billion by congressional Democrats who want more new spending.
Democrats in Congress see additional government spending as key to the recovery, but the public is more worried that the government will spend too much money in the coming year. In fact, following the $700 billion bailout plan approved by Congress last October, 73% of Americans were concerned that the federal government would run out of money.
At this point in time, however, voter confidence in Obama is high enough to overcome whatever generic concerns the public may have about too much government spending.
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