Even Republican Framing Can't Make COVID Relief Unpopular

The GOP is flailing right now, and not just because their dear leader Donald Trump is gone. Joe Biden’s early presidency has been a political success, in major part because of the American Rescue Plan passed a couple weeks ago. The $1.9 trillion relief plan had tremendous public support, and still does—Morning Consult found that a majority Americans supported the plan regardless of party affiliation, particularly the $1,400 stimulus checks.

But Republican media can’t accept the bill’s popularity, because it would mean conceding an enormous policy defeat barely two months into Biden’s presidency. So, absent any actual policy ideas (besides manufacturing and misconstruing an immigration crisis), GOP pollsters need some data of their own to disprove it.

Unfortunately for them, the results are roughly the same no matter how they’re framed.

In a series of tweets Wednesday, Republican pollster Patrick Ruffini discussed Echeleon Insights’ polling about the American Rescue Plan, and boldly declared it needed a “vibe check.” Support for the bill was at 57 percent with 36 percent against, “down from other polling showing 70%+ support pre-passage.” What Ruffini glosses over, however, is the way Echeleon framed the question—instead of calling the bill COVID relief, they asked if they supported “the $1.9 trillion government spending bill.” It’s a simple rhetorical trick to make the massive relief bill seem wasteful and insidious.

The disparity between Trump and Biden voters is stark enough to note. Still, the overall numbers of 57-36 leave a margin of +21. That’s a number any reasonable politician or pollster would accept every single day of the week, especially on a piece of legislation this size. In fact, the margin being that high despite the question’s obvious negative framing is just as significant as the Republican opposition, if not more so.

In the same thread, Ruffini points out that 56 percent of voters surveyed don’t think Democrats are acting in a bipartisan manner. Even a majority of Democrats agree (38-37). The context he leaves out here, though, is even more painfully obvious: it doesn’t matter whether Democrats are bipartisan or not. “Incorporating Republican ideals,” which is Echeleon’s definition of bipartisanship here, would involve incorporating the ideals of a party completely uninterested in offering the American people any kind of relief whatsoever—which is, of course, not mentioned in the polling question.

 

That framing alone, both in this poll and in American politics generally, accounts for skewed numbers. It also leaves out how many people—particularly Biden voters—are perfectly okay with he and Democrats not acting in a bipartisan manner and actually getting things done. And as one replier helpfully posited, if a majority of people support the American Rescue Plan but most believe it doesn’t incorporate Republican ideals, what exactly does that say about Republican ideals?

In fairness, Biden’s agenda wasn’t necessarily the main focus of Echeleon’s polling. The first tweet in Ruffini’s thread references their polling to gauge support for non-Trump 2024 presidential candidates. (It’s Florida Governor Ron DeSantis by the way, at least among self-identified Trump Republicans). Does that discount the insights (or non-insights) here? Not nearly as much as the egregiously conservative question framing. But they asked these questions for a reason, and the results clearly show that regardless of spin and omission, direct relief—and this particular bill—is overwhelmingly popular.

Trying to spin a narrative that’s snowballing against you is a difficult task, but Republican pollsters and media will find a way. Some topic, or at least a particular way of asking it, will surely stick. Maybe it won’t be quietly characterizing popular relief as wasteful spending or misrepresenting the border “crisis” or feigning outrage at Vice President Kamala Harris not saluting military personnel even though she doesn’t have to. But something will work eventually, and they’ll just keep plugging until they find it.

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