Joe Biden’s massive infrastructure and family-support plans are a direct appeal to the discontented white voters who put Donald Trump in office and to independent suburban women, his advisers say, with the president staking a claim on economic issues ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.
The so-called American Jobs Plan Biden released last month features spending on traditional infrastructure like highways and airports to better compete with China, a pitch his advisers think will resonate with Republican men and blue-collar workers.
And the “American Families Plan” he’ll outline this week seeks to broadly increase the availability of child care and improve working conditions for people caring for children and seniors — a top priority for suburban women, pollsters say.
Taken together, support from the two groups could form a potentially powerful bloc for Democrats ahead of the midterms, when the party of incumbent presidents typically loses seats in Congress. Republicans have long polled with voters as more trustworthy on economic stewardship, but Biden’s bet is that his proposals — even accompanied by price tags in the trillions of dollars and tax increases to help pay for them — can peel away enough GOP support that Democrats can keep control of the House and Senate.
It’s too soon to say whether Biden’s bet will pay off. His tax-and-spend plans offer ready-made material for GOP TV ads in races against vulnerable Democrats. Those may play particularly well in the Republican-leaning suburban districts Democrats seized to win their House majority in 2018. Republicans already are preparing their attack lines.
“This is a sloppy liberal wish list that would spend a lot and get very little in return,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said on Monday of Biden’s proposals. He called the jobs plan “bloated, unfocused — it’s not a targeted recipe for better public works,” and suggested the families plan was “just as dishonest.”
Even so, Democrats cite surveys that show their arguments are hitting home.
One of Biden’s top pollsters during the 2020 campaign, Celinda Lake, said that when she surveyed voters on his infrastructure proposal last June and July, she anticipated Republicans would be repelled by the vast deficit spending it envisioned. Instead, a majority of GOP voters she polled said they supported government spending to rebuild roads and bridges and expand job training and access to broadband.
“It was a surprise to me,” she said.
White House senior adviser Anita Dunn said the infrastructure plan was intentionally focused on Americans in the lower quadrant of the economy.
“The people who will benefit a great deal from these policies are seen as Trump voters, rural people, rural White people, some blue-collar people,” she said.
The upcoming “American Families Plan” appeals to a separate but equally important demographic group for Democrats — independent suburban women, many of whom turned away from Trump in the 2020 election.
The coalition of women who helped deliver the election to Biden — Black women, Latinas and white college-educated women — support different parts of Biden’s care-giving proposals, such as better home care for seniors and higher wages for workers in the industry, according to exit polling of the 2020 race conducted by Lake Research Partners and the Tarrance Group for the National Partnership for Women & Families, the National Women’s Law Center and TIME’S UP Now, three left-leaning advocacy groups.
Women who live in the suburbs solidly support every provision of the plan, the polling showed, according to a memo prepared for the groups obtained by Bloomberg News.
Nonpartisan polling shows some support among Republicans for Biden’s plans. About two-thirds of Americans said they back Biden’s infrastructure and family-support plans in a poll by Monmouth University published Monday. A third of Republicans surveyed said they back the infrastructure plan, though support among GOP respondents for the families plan fell to 22 percent.
It’s uncertain whether that can translate to changes in voting.
Biden wasn’t successful appealing to the White working class, less-educated and rural voters that built the base of Trump’s support in 2020, said David Hopkins, an associate professor of political science at Boston College who studies the polarization of the political parties.
“The question that is still unanswered is that now Trump is no longer the opponent, are more of those voters gettable for the Democrats?” he said.
And while the president succeeded at passing his $1.9 trillion pandemic-relief bill through Congress in February, it was a narrow victory, requiring unity among all 50 in the Democratic caucus in the Senate. His latest proposals face stiffer opposition as the economy recovers and concern about deficits and inflation rises.
“So much of the financial help has been temporary pandemic spending,” said Michael Strain, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning research group. “That is the complication with that argument. There isn’t much in the law beyond 2022.”
The Biden team hopes to build the president’s coalition by drawing independent voters and bits of the Trump base with policies that would improve the economy, increase wages and expand federal support for families. It’s an effort to show Americans that the government can work for them, coming on the heels of Biden’s success increasing the pace of coronavirus vaccinations and delivering on promises to issue additional stimulus checks, unemployment benefits and other economic assistance.
A recent Gallup survey suggests Biden already has a receptive audience among American voters. Since President Trump left office, 49 percent of the survey’s respondents said they consider themselves Democrats or lean that way, compared with 40 percent for Republicans. That is the largest gap in party affiliation in the last decade, though Gallup said Democratic Party identification tends to rise when Democrats win the presidency.
“Even a swing of a couple of percentage points can be the difference between winning or losing,” said Hopkins at Boston College. “Anything that has a potential marginal effect might end up being decisive.
Story by Nancy Cook.