Washington, D.C. — A new report released today by the Center for American Progress shows that Americans desperately want less fighting in politics and more cooperation carried out with a sense of shared purpose that is focused on the building blocks of national economic improvement and the well-being of all people. The report looks at the wider economic context shaping American public opinion, providing detailed explorations of voter attitudes on major domestic and foreign policy priorities; beliefs about America’s role in the world and the proper role of government; and reactions to a series of 20 concrete ideas that could potentially drive more unified national action.
Conducted by CAP and GBAO Strategies, this major new public opinion study examines a range of policy issues that could shape the post-COVID-19 recovery and rebuilding effort. The online poll interviewed 2,000 registered voters nationally, from March 24 to March 29, 2021. It was fielded just after Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act and President Joe Biden signed it into law. The large sample size of this poll makes it possible to examine continuity and divergences in opinions across generational, partisan, and demographic lines.
The results suggest that there is a unified path forward if our leaders choose to focus on the core aspects of national renewal: making major investments in the sources and sectors of good-paying jobs; linking U.S. domestic and foreign policy more tightly to better protect workers and U.S. interests; upgrading national infrastructure; and supporting American families as they try to get back on their feet.
“At a time of seemingly endless political divisions in America, it is encouraging to find voters seeing many areas for common action from government, the private sector, and individual citizens to help rebuild the economy into something more productive and competitive in the world, with widely shared prosperity and increased opportunities available for all,” said Mara Rudman, executive vice president for policy at CAP.
“The American public understands that their lives and jobs are directly connected to the rest of the world, and most Americans have a strong appetite for making the public investments at home needed to recover from the pandemic and compete in the world with countries such as China,” said Brian Katulis, senior fellow with the National Security and International Policy team at CAP. “The voices calling for America to build walls and pull back from the world may seem loud, but those voices lack strong public support.”
“Divisions, discord, anger. That’s all we ever hear about politics in the news and social media,” says John Halpin, CAP senior fellow and co-author of the report. “But these results show Americans themselves are more alike than they are different. Voters want jobs that pay decent wages. They want their families to be financially secure and stable. They want American businesses to do well in the global economy. And they want politicians to make these our national priorities, rather than areas that divide us.”
Key findings on the national economic context, and domestic and foreign policy priorities include:
- Although a majority of American voters feel the national economy has gotten worse not better in the past year, President Biden receives positive job approval ratings from a majority of voters. 55 percent of voters overall feel that the U.S. economy has gotten worse over the past year, with approximately one-fifth of voters saying the economy either has either gotten better (19 percent) or stayed the same (22 percent) over this period. Partisan differences on evaluations of the national economy are, however, apparent, with nearly 7 in 10 Republicans saying the national economy has gotten worse, compared with slightly more than 4 in 10 Democrats. Meanwhile, 54 percent of voters overall approve of the job Biden is doing as president, including 92 percent of Democrats and 50 percent of independents; 82 percent of Republicans disapprove of Biden’s job as president, reflecting the sharply polarized partisan evaluations that have grown over the past decade.
- Most American voters personally feel stable and economically secure but believe other people are unstable and economically insecure. More than 6 in 10 voters report that they are “stable and economically secure,” compared with 3 in 10 voters who say they are “unstable and economically insecure.” Generational differences are notable on this measure, with more than one-third of Generation Z/Millennial voters and nearly two-fifths of Generation X voters saying their current economic situation is unstable and insecure, compared with only one-fifth of Baby Boomer/Silent Generation voters.
- Perceptions of economic hardship among Americans match many voters’ experiences, with more than half of all voters reporting facing some economic hardship or difficulty in the past year. 36 percent of voters overall report having to use “personal savings or retirement accounts to cover basic living expenses” in the past year of the pandemic. More than one-third of voters overall—and more than half of Generation Z/Millennial voters—say they had their “wages or salary cut, or faced reduced hours at work” last year; and 3 in 10 voters overall report they had “trouble paying basic household bills such as rent and mortgage, utilities, or food.”
- American voters’ top domestic priorities are controlling the coronavirus pandemic and creating jobs and improving wages, with big partisan divides on issues of immigration and climate change. 49 percent of American voters said “controlling the coronavirus pandemic” is the clear top priority for government leaders, while “creating jobs and improving wages” emerges second on the list, chosen by 38 percent of voters.
- Protecting American jobs is the most important U.S. foreign policy priority for voters, while concerns about foreign terrorism have dropped noticeably since 2019. Americans aligned on the key foreign policy priority of “protecting jobs for American workers” (47 percent overall); nearly 4 in 10 Democrats, about half of independents, and nearly 6 in 10 Republicans rank this as a top priority.
- Two-thirds of voters back President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act. more than 9 in 10 Democrats back the American Rescue Plan Act, as do more than 6 in 10 independents and 4 in 10 Republicans. Support also crosses generational lines, with more than 7 in 10 Generation Z/Millennial voters and more than 8 in 10 voters in older generations backing the third coronavirus relief package
The survey included a battery of 20 separate ideas crossing four main categories described in CAP’s “A More Perfect Union” report: 1) national economic development; 2) a strengthened social safety net; 3) new forms of international engagement on America’s core interests; and 4) new models for cooperative politics at home. Respondents were asked to indicate whether they agree or disagree with each idea on a scale from 0 to 10, with 0 indicating strong disagreement with the idea and 10 indicating strong agreement.
Some critical findings on these areas include:
- Voters want a less contentious form of politics, equal opportunity for all people, and a core strategic focus on protecting American interests and dealing with emerging international threats. The results show wide and strong agreement—with an average rating of 8 or higher for all voters, including 7 to 8 averages across party and demographic lines—on a few core ideas centered on a new model of politics, a basic liberal vision of equality and fairness, and a focus on emerging threats from cyberattacks and China.
- Voters back a range of steps to build up America’s economy, focus on the twin challenges of the coronavirus and jobs, and reduce regional inequalities. Voters also show basic agreement—albeit with less intensity at about a 7 average overall—on a range of ideas that would advance U.S. national economy, reduce regional inequalities, and improve the economic standing of workers and their families.
- Voters are more divided by partisanship on issues involving international cooperation and climate change. The bottom tier of attitudes—with average ratings of about 6—reflect greater division between Democrats and Republicans over issues such as global democracy and, particularly, on international organizations such as the World Health Organization and global steps to combat climate change.
- Voters say America will be back on the right track after the pandemic once people have jobs and wages are rising. Finally, the study presented voters with a list of economic and social outcomes and asked them to look ahead several years to pick which two outcomes would be the most important indicators to them that America has recovered from the pandemic and is once again moving in the right direction.
- “America Adrift: How the U.S. Foreign Policy Debate Misses What Voters Really Want” by John Halpin, Brian Katulis, Peter Juul, Karl Agne, Jim Gerstein, and Nisha Jain
- “America Decides: How Voters Think About the Economy, Government, and Poverty Ahead of the 2020 Election” by John Halpin, Karl Agne, and Nisha Jain
- “A More Perfect Union: A Policy Blueprint for Economic, Social, and International Rebuilding in the Post-COVID-19 Era” by the Center for American Progress
For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Claudia Montecinos at gro.ssergorpnacirema@sonicetnomc.