Bipartisan support from senators and voters barely moves opinion on stimulus checks

by Zachary L. Hertz (TPOL Research Associate), Aadhya Shivakumar (Class of ‘22), and Emma Winey (Class of ‘22)

On the campaign trail and in his inaugural address, President Joe Biden stressed calls for unity and touted his ability to work across the aisle. Fifty days into his presidency, the recent passage of the American Rescue Plan has brought renewed scrutiny as to whether the president can keep these promises.

But defining bipartisanship proves tricky. Democrats have claimed that the bill is bipartisan because it receives support from Republican voters; the New York Times notes that the American Rescue Plan is the only COVID-19 stimulus plan passed by Congress to have zero bipartisan votes. But, regardless of how you define bipartisanship, does it matter whether the bill is bipartisan or not? Are voters more likely to support the American Rescue Plan if they think the legislation has more bipartisan support?

We ran an extension of our February experiment with Data For Progress to investigate. As part of the monthly Data For Progress Covid-19 tracking poll, we told respondents that Congress was considering a COVID-19 stimulus proposal providing stimulus checks in the amount of $1,400. We then randomized the order of two statements: we told respondents that the plan had the support of all 50 Democratic senators and a randomly assigned number between 0 and 10 Republican senators, and that polling showed 90% of Democratic voters and a randomly assigned number between 25% and 55% of Republican voters supported the stimulus proposal. We then asked respondents whether they would support or oppose the proposal.

Support from GOP senators boosted support for stimulus to higher levels than support from voters, but not by much

Overall, support for $1,400 checks increased as respondents were told the policy had greater support from Republican voters. The stimulus checks had 58% support when respondents were told 25–35% of Republican voters supported the policy. Support increased by 5 percentage points to 63% when respondents were told 36–45% of Republican voters supported the checks and grew another 3 percentage points to 66% when respondents were told 46–55% of Republican voters supported $1,400 checks. But this increase was modest and not statistically significant.

Notably, while support for stimulus checks increased consistently as respondents were told higher percentages of Republican voters supported $1,400 direct payments, a different trend emerged when respondents were told the policy garnered support from Republican senators. Approximately 62% of respondents expressed support for $1,400 direct payments when respondents were told 0–3 Republican senators had endorsed the policy. Notably, this was close to the level of support for stimulus checks when respondents had been told 36–45% of Republican voters supported the policy. Approval increased to 69 percent, its highest level overall, when respondents were told 4–6 Republican senators backed $1,400 stimulus checks. But support fell 14 percentage points to 55% when respondents were told 7–10 Republican senators sponsored the bill.

Support from both voters and senators failed to significantly affect Democratic support for the $1,400 direct payments

Overall, neither bipartisan support from American voters nor support from GOP Senators had a significant effect on support for the $1,400 direct payment among Democratic respondents. With regard to bipartisan agreement among voters, Democratic support for the direct payment was at its lowest at 79% in the condition where support from Republican voters was between 25% and 35%. Democratic respondents were most in favor of the $1,400 payment when 36–45% of GOP voters supported the payment. This support decreased by about 1 percentage point to 83% when respondents were told that between 46% and 55% of Republican voters were in favor of the $1,400 direct payment. Although there were differences in support from Democratic respondents across conditions, these differences were small and not statistically significant.

Increased bipartisanship among Republican senators did not significantly increase support from Democratic respondents. When they were told that between 0 and 3 Republican senators were in favor of the $1,400 direct payment, Democrats showed 79% support for the policy. Support increased to 84% with 4–6 GOP senators supporting the direct payment, and decreased to 82% when 7–10 were in support of the bill. Notably, Democratic support for the $1,400 direct payment was at its highest at 84% in the conditions where 36–45% of Republican voters and 4–6 Republican senators were in favor of the policy. However, regardless of whether the bill was said to be supported by more Republican voters or senators, changes in bipartisanship did not significantly affect Democratic respondents’ opinion on the bill. We conclude that Democrats’ high level of support for $1400 direct payments leaves little room for bipartisanship to boost Democratic opinion on the policy.

Neither measure of bipartisanship significantly altered Republican support for the $1,400 direct payments

Neither measure of bipartisanship had a statistically significant effect on Republican support for President Biden’s $1,400 checks. When looking at bipartisan agreement among voters, nearly 30 percent of Republicans supported the payments when between 25% and 35% of Republican voters backed Biden’s plan. Republican support increased only by 10 points when voter bipartisanship reached its peak (with 46% — 55% of GOP voters backing the plan). Here, 40 percent of Republicans backed the $1,400 payments. Though elevated bipartisan agreement among American voters did boost Republican support for the $1,400 payments, the differences were not statistically significant.

Elevated Senate bipartisanship did not increase Republican support for the direct payment proposal in a statistically significant manner. In fact, Republican support was nearly 30 points lower when 7–10 GOP Senators backed the bill instead of 4–6 Senators. Notably, when looking at either measure of bipartisanship, support among Republicans was highest — 51 percent — when 4–6 GOP Senators supported the proposal. This was the only group to pass the 50 percent threshold. Even so, the amplified bipartisanship did not have a statistically significant effect on Republican support for the stimulus checks.

Conclusion

As with our earlier experiment, we find limited evidence suggesting that increased bipartisanship boosts support for $1,400 stimulus checks. While endorsements from 4–6 Republican senators led to the highest levels of support, respondents were more consistently responsive to increasing support from Republican voters than Republican senators. These trends played out even when the sample was divided by partisan identification. Our findings provide further evidence that the benefits of bipartisanship in garnering approval for the American Rescue Plan may be limited among Democrats, who largely support the policy. While we did not observe a statistically significant difference we also found potential evidence that bipartisanship could potentially win over Republican voters, and hope to examine these effects with a larger sample size in future research.

The Tufts Public Opinion Lab (TPOL) is dedicated to studying contemporary controversies in American public opinion using quantitative data analysis.

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