Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 23, 2009

AMERICANS HEART INFRASTRUCTURE.... A couple of weeks ago, Gallup conducted a poll on public attitudes towards a stimulus package. The single most popular aspect of a possible rescue plan? Government spending on infrastructure, which enjoyed 78% support, and came out on top among Americans of every party and ideology.

Republican pollster Frank Luntz has been doing similar tests of public opinion, and has found similar results: Americans really care about infrastructure.

I'm a pollster and political consultant associated with Republican causes: the Contract with America, the "death tax" and, of course, ending wasteful Washington spending. So why am I behind the new stimulus legislation -- the biggest spending bill ever to be considered by Congress? Maybe because when it comes to some things -- crumbling schools, overcrowded highways, an ineffective energy system, clean-water facilities that don't clean water and trains and planes that are always late -- we're all on the same side.

Last month, I conducted a national survey of 800 registered voters on their attitudes toward infrastructure investment.... The survey's findings were unlike any other issue I have polled in more than a decade. Iraq, healthcare, taxes, education -- they all predictably divide and polarize Americans into political camps. Not infrastructure.

Consider this: A near unanimous 94% of Americans are concerned about our nation's infrastructure. And this concern cuts across all regions of the country and across urban, suburban and rural communities.

Fully 84% of the public wants more money spent by the federal government -- and 83% wants more spent by state governments -- to improve America's infrastructure.

How strong is the support? Luntz found that Americans are prepared to pay (cue scary music) higher taxes for more infrastructure investment. Luntz was further shocked to find that three out of four Republicans would accept such a trade off.

Better yet, Luntz found that Americans "understand that infrastructure is not just roads, bridges and rails. In fact, they rated fixing energy facilities as their highest priority. Roads and highways scored second, and clean-water treatment facilities third."

The phrase "good policy is good politics" keeps coming to mind.

Steve Benen 2:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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Comments

It's sorta unfortunate that it takes a Depression to get politicians to realize this. But I'm very glad to see the electricity grid at the top of Obama's list.

Posted by: jayackroyd on January 23, 2009 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

since liberals seem to have longer memories than conservatives, let's remember that a similar poll prior to the 2000 elections found that a majority of Americans preferred "fixing things like social security" to a tax cut. And by a pretty good margin. But of course, Bush never paid any attention to polls...

Posted by: stan H on January 23, 2009 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

I'm all for investments in infrastructure, but if this is what people think is going to get us out of the economic crisis, they're fooling themselves. Having a bunch of people working on building roads, repairing electrical grids, etc. for lower wages than they used to earn is not going to improve aggregate demand all that much. It's going to be good for construction workers, and they definitely need a bailout too, but let's not get too carried away here in our expectations for infrastructure investments. They're temporary in nature, rarely produce new technologies (although the field of green construction could change that to some degree...), and I feel like the extent to which they helped us during the depression (in terms of short-run economic growth) is overstated.

Posted by: Geoff on January 23, 2009 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

Geoff--

That's all true. But it's also true that deficit spending for capital goods, especially those with a long useful life is actually sensible. It would be especially sensible if it were funded in part by reductions in military procurement expenditures.

It is still very important to deliver aid to states (NY's unemployment fund just ran out) extend food stamp eligibility, lengthen unemployment eligibility. I also like the payroll tax cut.

Still, investment in infrastructure maintenance is long overdue.

Posted by: jayackroyd on January 23, 2009 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

So why am I behind the new stimulus legislation -- the biggest spending bill ever to be considered by Congress? Maybe because when it comes to some things -- crumbling schools, overcrowded highways, an ineffective energy system, clean-water facilities that don't clean water and trains and planes that are always late -- we're all on the same side.

Horseshit. Pure horseshit. Even if Luntz is sincere on this, Republicans have done everything in their power to torch public spending on these things. From public transportation (take Amtrak, for instance, or any urban train system) to schools (let's see...what did the property tax revolts do again?) to energy (are you fucking kidding me? They hate the New Deal, even though it electrified the South. They killed Carter for making sane proposals 30 years ago and they have only gotten worse, to the point of FUCKING California by letting Enron ruin it).

All of these things require massive public expenditure. Most of these things require government regulation. And some, like crowded highways, require drastic behavioral changes -- social engineering, one might say.

I'm glad they are popular. But it's essentially socialist. And Luntz is either a liar or a fool to think "we are all on the same side".

Posted by: Jay B. on January 23, 2009 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

Call me a skeptic.

Regardless of what they may say in a poll, 47% voted for McCain/Palin, and these same people will support anything Republicans say/do/promote, or don't promote.

If Limbaugh and Fox News come out against spending the money (a near certainty since Obama is a Democrat), Obama will have to fight to get anywhere with this 47%.

Posted by: Mark-NC on January 23, 2009 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

I think the psychological roots of of the contemporary concern with infrastructure run very deep in this country. Collapsing bridges and a bursting levees are physical manifestations and symbols of a crumbling country. Americans feel their country has been decaying, crumbling and faltering, and is in decline. They want to arrest the decline. They want rebuild their infrastructure because they want to rebuild and restore their country. The visceral fear of collapse may be a lingering psychic effect of the unresolved trauma of viewing the horrifying collapse of two monuments to American global power on 9/11. And language of "collapse" and "meltdown" abound in discussions over the recent, frightening financial and economic crisis.

Obama should seize on the language of "rebuilding" and "restoration" as he moves his economic and domestic policy plans forward.

Posted by: Dan Kervick on January 23, 2009 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

This is probably because people are impacted by crumbling infrastructure and its effect every day.

Posted by: mfw13 on January 23, 2009 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

I am so glad that journalists' 2008 concept of "infrastructure" has not changed one iota since the 1932: roads, bridges, levees.

Posted by: Douglas Watts on January 23, 2009 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

Infrastructure is so import that it's only $30 Billion out of $875 billion stimulus package.
That's less that 3.5%

Posted by: Neo on January 23, 2009 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

"Trillions for defense but not one cent for ... anything else !!!"

That always works.


Posted by: Douglas Watts on January 23, 2009 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

Having a bunch of people working on building roads, repairing electrical grids, etc. for lower wages than they used to earn is not going to improve aggregate demand all that much.

Maybe, but it'll improve aggregate demand from the same group of people not working at all.

Sheesh.

Posted by: Gregory on January 23, 2009 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

If we're going to spend obscene amounts of money, I'd just as soon we spend it on stuff that will last (like roads, bridges, electrical upgrades, Inerweb backbone) than in giving people rebate checks so they can buy another freaking TV or video game.

Posted by: Michael Patrick on January 23, 2009 at 4:19 PM | PERMALINK
Let's not get too carried away here in our expectations for infrastructure investments. They're temporary in nature
The spending is temporary, and so some of the stimulant effect indeed evaporates. But investment in infrastructure can (usually does) yield improvements in commercial efficiency that are much longer-lasting and far-reaching. Posted by: Bernard HP Gilroy on January 23, 2009 at 4:22 PM | PERMALINK

Mark-NC said: If Limbaugh and Fox News come out against spending the money (a near certainty since Obama is a Democrat), Obama will have to fight to get anywhere with this 47%.

This is not entirely true. Yes, a certain percentage of Americans are die-hard ditto-heads, who will go along with whatever Rush, O'Reily, Hanity, etc. say, but those statistics show us something important. Those statistics suggest that a huge majority of Americans broadly support the idea of the government spending on infrastructure...Dems, Indies and Reps. The number show a striking level of support among people all over the country.

Those numbers suggest to me that the far-right can expect no more than 30% opposition to Obama's plans...35% if you think the numbers are soft.

Yes, 47% of voters chose McCain, but most folks in this country still believe in our democratic system, therefore, a sizable number of people who did not vote for Obama will support him, at least for a while.

Basically, any sane person can see that our economy is in serious trouble. So, more of them are willing to go along with Obama regardless of party affiliation.

That is how I see it.

Posted by: independent thinker on January 23, 2009 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, 47% of voters chose McCain, but most folks in this country still believe in our democratic system, therefore, a sizable number of people who did not vote for Obama will support him, at least for a while.

IIRC, right now Obama has something like 60% or 80% support among self-reported Republicans. His numbers are much higher among self-reported Democrats and independents.

I don't think this obstructionism is going to go over very well with them.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on January 23, 2009 at 4:40 PM | PERMALINK

That the public cares so much about a non-sexy/hot button but vital issue like infrastructure shows they aren't as stupid as many suppose.

Posted by: Neil B ◙ on January 23, 2009 at 5:21 PM | PERMALINK

They like it now, but wait until all the highway construction causes traffic jams. I'm sure Drudge'll be on top of every Obama-related SigAlert in the coming months.

Posted by: Etchasketchist on January 23, 2009 at 6:12 PM | PERMALINK

what republicans don't realize is that Americans would rather have jobs than tax breaks, especially good infrastructure jobs where you can see the fruits of your labor - people take a lot pride in building things. A $600 tax break pays the utility bills for a couple months, then its gone and the recipient has nothing to show for it.

Tax breaks are for the rich, who 1) are the only ones where tax breaks are substantial enough to buy anything good, and 2) get their jollies form counting their cash.
.

Posted by: pluege on January 23, 2009 at 8:41 PM | PERMALINK

Get-rich-quick schemes like the government passing out a trillion dollars in "free" money is quite seductive compared to facing reality.

Posted by: Luther on January 23, 2009 at 9:00 PM | PERMALINK

"Get-rich-quick schemes like the government passing out a trillion dollars in "free" money is quite seductive compared to facing reality.

Pretending that you never need to fix infrastructure, that you can cut taxes and increase spending and suffer no ill consequences is quite seductive compared to facing reality.

Now what was your point again?

Posted by: PaulB on January 23, 2009 at 10:11 PM | PERMALINK

Asking people if they like infrastructure even IF we had to raise their taxes is like asking if they like this car even if it costs money.

Yes of course, how much money?

And further, even they said how much, asking in a survey if they'd willing to pay $10,000 (for example) for "infrastructure" isn't like telling them, ok we're going to build infrastructure... now, give me $10,000...

And finally, I don't think anybody really believes (yet) that any politician will actually raise their taxes anyway. After all, Presidents Bush and Clinton were the last Presidents to raise taxes, and Bush lost the Presidency, and Clinton lost all of Congress.

So what all those surveyed folks are telling us is that they love free infrastructure.

I'm not as amazed at the survey's responses so much as I am at, well, everyone's amazement at these responses.

Posted by: Jim G on January 23, 2009 at 11:22 PM | PERMALINK

Economists agree cutting taxes will do very little to stimulate the economy. Yet 33% of the stimulus package are tax-cuts. That is more than double the percentage of funds allocated for infrastructure projects.

Tonight on MSNBC, Rachel Maddow interviewed a senator from Oregon(?). He said funding for infrastructure had been reduced to 15% (or less) of the stimulus package to pay for the tax-cuts.

He further added Obama's economic advisor, Larry Summers who is responsible for getting us into this mess in the first place, hates infrastructure ... which would explain the decrease in funding.

The senator's last comments -- paraphrased -- We are borrowing on the backs of future generations shouldn't that money be spent on building for their future and have something to show for it!

Amen!

Posted by: serena1313 on January 24, 2009 at 3:03 AM | PERMALINK

"So why am I behind the new stimulus legislation -- the biggest spending bill ever to be considered by Congress?"

Maybe because "infrastructure," aka subsidized highway and airport pork, is one kind of big gummint that Luntz's big business paymasters can't get enough of. Just ask Charlie "What's Good for GM" Wilson, who supervised the Interstate Highway System. One of the things that keeps the real estate industry propped up is tax-subsidized sprawl. And Wal-Mart's whole "warehouses on wheels" distribution model depends on massive subsidies to highways and trucking; the main thing Wal-Mart agitates for locally is for the district's Congressman to bring home the highway pork.

This is a bootlegger-Baptist alliance if there ever was one.

Posted by: Kevin Carson on January 24, 2009 at 3:42 AM | PERMALINK

And finally, I don't think anybody really believes (yet) that any politician will actually raise their taxes anyway. After all, Presidents Bush and Clinton were the last Presidents to raise taxes, and Bush lost the Presidency, and Clinton lost all of Congress.

there are a ton of taxes that could be raised that hardly anyone would give a rats ass about: raise taxes on the top 5% wealthiest and its completely political free as long as you don't let republicans get away with dominating the media, running around screaming with their hair on fire that the government is stealing all of "your" money.

You could raise top marginal rates, the estate tax, add luxury taxes, eliminate the deduction for dividends, exemptions for hedge fund traders, and close loop holes and no one would feel a thing except a few of the obscenely rich. In short, you could undo all of bush's tax cuts for the wealthy and boost a few and it would be a political winner as long as the message is controlled: 'in this time of great national crises, everyone needs to pay their fair share, blah, blah, blah...'

Posted by: pluege on January 24, 2009 at 7:09 AM | PERMALINK

"Get-rich-quick schemes like the government passing out a trillion dollars in "free" money is quite seductive compared to facing reality."


No kidding, especially if you're a bankrupt bank and the taxpayers have just given you 2.7 trillion dollars in the last four months, and the only thing taxpayers can SEE as results are bank executives getting huge bonuses.

Most people that are out of work need jobs. If the jobs are to build something good for the country like buildings, dams, roads, etc, that's just a smart investment. If the jobs are to get green power installed and America off of oil, that's just a smart investment.

Better than throwing money at that black hole called Wall St.


Posted by: Glen on January 24, 2009 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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