Poll: Americans are really worried about making sure $1,400 checks go to the “right” people

“A new poll of 1,164 likely voters conducted January 15 to 19 by Vox and Data for Progress (DFP) reveals an oft-ignored truth: Sometimes the reason optimal policy doesn’t happen isn’t because of bad politicians; it’s because voters don’t want it to pass.

In the poll, 60 percent of likely voters said they would support sending a $1,400 one-time payment to most Americans as part of Covid-19 relief. That’s great news — the $1,200 stimulus checks last year were shown to have reduced poverty and helped Americans stay afloat in the first months of the crisis.

But that same number (60 percent) support means-testing the aid, agreeing with the statement: “Checks should be phased out based on income so higher income people receive less money.”The poll, which has a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points, also found that nearly as many likely voters (56 percent) are opposed to sending stimulus checks to undocumented people.

Voters may not fully understand the trade-offs to means-testing and restricting aid to undocumented Americans(namely, that many people experiencing financial difficulties may be left out due to poor targeting). But the stance is consistent with another DFP finding, whichMatt Yglesias wrote about for his newsletter Slow Boring, revealing that voters would rather some vaccine doses expire than allow “some people to cut in line.” In essence, that means most voters would rather have more people get Covid-19 and potentially die than have someone get a vaccine dose before they “should.”

Opposition to the wealthy receiving financial assistance from the government and hostility to undocumented immigrants isn’t surprising, but these findings showcase something very important: Voters are so concerned about the perceived “fairness” of the economic response that it couldhamstring optimal policymaking.”

“America is in a crisis, and it’s a trade-off between speed and accuracy. Yes, some people who get the money may save it, they may not be financially harmed by the pandemic, and it may feel unfair, but it’s better that everyone struggling gets the money as quickly as possible than we slow down the process over a flawed conception of justice.”

“Proponents of means-testing may point to recent data that stimulus checks to Americans earning over $75,000 don’t benefit the economy — in essence arguing it’s a waste of government spending. However, as Matthews pointed out, the simple fix to this would be to just tax rich people more later to recoup the costs instead of wasting time during a pandemic trying to design the optimal program. Additionally, we only have this data in hindsight — at the time, it wasn’t obvious where the dividing line between “affected by the pandemic” and “unaffected” was.” 

“One silver lining in the poll is the finding that 51 percent of likely voters are in favor of automatic stabilizers that “automatically trigger more spending on programs like unemployment insurance or SNAP if the economy experiences a contraction.” It’s something Biden has signaled his support for and that could help the nation avoid wasting precious time the next time there’s a recession.” 


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