Why Infrastructure Isn’t The Big Political Winner Democrats Think It Is

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Gallup’s Frank Newport has written an overview of recent public polling on infrastructure, and the data show why passing legislation may not resonate with voters as much as they think it will.

To be sure, Newport highlights polling showing that when asked directly, Americans are broadly supportive of infrastructure spending:

A Monmouth University poll found 68% support for infrastructure funding in response to this question: “President Biden recently proposed a $2 trillion infrastructure plan to be spent on roads, bridges and trains, internet access, power grid improvements, and clean energy projects. In general, do you support or oppose this plan?” A Washington Post/ABC News poll in April found 52% support and 35% opposition for a “$2 trillion infrastructure development plan that the Biden administration has proposed.” A poll sponsored by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication found 67% support among registered voters for a “major investment in the nation’s infrastructure.”

This makes sense. Asked broadly whether the government should spend money on things that sound good, Americans are likely to say yes. The contrast in the above questions also make sense. It’s revealing that when the question mentions Biden, support more closely matches his overall approval.

But beyond that, when it comes to motivating voters, what matters isn’t just passing legislation that polls well. It’s about addressing issues that people really care about. And on that count, infrastructure ranks a lot worse. Newport writes:

With all of that said, I should note that despite this public support for infrastructure legislation, it does not appear to be a high priority for Americans. (It’s possible that the recent news coverage of the collapsed condominium tower in Florida could increase the public’s sense of the importance of focusing on infrastructure.) Pew Research Center in April gave Americans a list of 15 different problems facing the nation and found that “condition of roads, bridges and other infrastructure” ended up third from the bottom of the list in terms of being perceived as “a very big problem.” Additionally, infrastructure basically does not show up at all in our Gallup updates on Americans’ top-of-mind perceptions of the most important problem facing the nation.

In other words, people may like the idea of spending more money on infrastructure when asked (especially when tradeoffs of massive spending aren’t included in the questions), but if not asked directly, they aren’t exactly clamoring for Congress to address the issue, let alone to elevate it above all others.

There is also a lesson here for Republicans who see the polling on infrastructure and may feel inclined to support the exorbitant infrastructure package. There is no reason to feel compelled to do so. There is no major constituency that would drive anybody out of office for voting against an infrastructure bill.