The scope of President Biden’s recently passed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, which he described as “big and bold,” drew criticism in some quarters as excessive. Republican Senator Mitt Romney, for example, called the bill a “clunker” and questioned whether the “massive price tag is justified.”
When we asked about the COVID–19 relief bill on the most recent Yahoo News/YouGov poll, we decided to test whether including the $1.9 trillion price tag in the question would affect responses. We asked a random half sample of our respondents if they support or oppose “$1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief legislation recently passed by Congress.” The other half sample got the same question, but with the “$1.9 trillion” price tag omitted.
Our hypothesis was that some respondents might be more hesitant to offer their support when informed of the $1.9 trillion size of the relief package.
As it turned out, the opposite is true.
Support is significantly higher with the $1.9 trillion price tag attached (58%) than with it omitted (51%), with the difference coming entirely from those who are not sure. Opposition is exactly the same (25%) for both versions of the question.
Perhaps the result was a random fluke, with the more supportive half sample hearing being more pro-Biden or pro-Democrat? No. By chance, the respondents who saw the price tag were slightly more Democratic in their party ID (42% Democrat, 31% Republican, with leaners included) than those do did not (41% Democrat, 34% Republican), but the difference was statistically insignificant and considerably smaller than the gap in support for the relief package.
More importantly, the gap was present across the party spectrum. Support for the relief package was eight percentage points higher when informed of the $1.9 trillion price tag among both Democrats (88% vs. 80%) and Republicans (29% vs. 21%).
So why, as Yahoo News reported, did “more Americans see the implied scope and seriousness of the measure as a positive than see its cost as a negative?”
The result says a lot about the perceived magnitude of the crisis and importance of COVID-19 relief, as confirmed by other results on the same survey. Biden’s overall job rating rose five percentage points on the Yahoo tracking poll (from 51% to 56%) following passage of the bill. A majority (60%) are still worried about COVID, and more say “Congress was right to spend whatever it took to provide COVID–19 relief” (52%) than say “Congress spent too much on COVID–19 relief” (30%).
Of course, this result may not replicate for other legislation beyond the response to the pandemic. When asked on the same survey about additional economic proposals which, “if all passed by Congress could cost as much as $3 trillion,” more respondents said Congress should spend “less” (25%) or “nothing” (15%) than agreed that “Congress should spend a much as it takes on these proposals” (35%).
But when it comes to the way Americans perceive COVID-19 relief, however, bigger was better.
Methodology: The Yahoo! News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,556 U.S. adults interviewed online between March 23-25, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as well as 2020 Presidential vote (or non-vote), and voter registration status. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error (a 95% confidence interval) for the entire sample is approximately 2.7%.