Big Government? For Now, Most Americans Say Bring It On

But polling suggests the political winds may be flying against them. The American public remains broadly wary of reopening, and it is looking to the federal government to provide an economic lifeline, according to a range of surveys released over the course of the coronavirus crisis.

Public confidence in President Trump’s ability to handle the pandemic has taken a considerable hit over the past month, and he lashed out at aides last week after receiving internal polling that showed Joseph R. Biden Jr. beating him soundly in several important states.

As Mr. Trump and fellow Republicans work to win over a fearful and increasingly jobless public in the midst of an election year, they are confronting support for government intervention that is far stronger than usual.

“There’s no real public support for ending social distancing, and there’s very real public support for more spending, with the sort of top priorities being keeping small businesses open, preventing states and localities from having to cut services, and checks to Americans,” Sean McElwee, a founder of the left-wing polling firm Data for Progress, said in an interview.

In a Quinnipiac University poll taken just after Mr. Trump signed a stimulus bill for more than $2 trillion, four in five respondents expressed approval of the legislation — even after being reminded of the price tag. By more than two to one, the respondents said they wanted Congress to follow with another stimulus bill to confront the pandemic.

American voters don’t want the spending to be unmitigated. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed that by a margin of 48 percent to 40 percent, Americans were more likely to say they were concerned about spending too much and driving up the deficit than they were that the government could spend too little and prolong the recession. This is in keeping with a long national history of favoring economic caution.

But support for government involvement in the economy has increased noticeably over the past 10 years, according to Gallup data. And this is an extraordinary moment.

This week, Jerome Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, who would typically stay away from advising legislators on policy — and who would be almost guaranteed not to encourage a huge increase in government spending — urged Congress to spend liberally in order to keep the economy on life support during this time of enforced dormancy.

Jobless claims have surpassed 30 million since the virus began, and independent analyses have suggested that millions more who have not filed claims are also eligible for unemployment benefits. Various recent surveys have found that in half of American households, at least one family member has lost work as a result of the virus.

Three in 10 Americans reported struggling to pay for food, rent or other bills as a result of the pandemic, according to a mid-April Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted as some of the March stimulus bill’s offerings were starting to take effect.

In a previous Kaiser poll, three in five Americans said they held the federal government, not the states, primarily responsible for confronting the pandemic. Yet it is their state and local officials whom Americans tend to trust to handle the crisis. In an Associated Press/NORC poll in mid-April, 63 percent of Americans said they approved of how their state and local governments had responded to the crisis, compared with just 40 percent who approved of the federal government’s handling.

That sentiment may have contributed to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision on Thursday to aim a proposed $1 trillion bill — which would be the largest legislation of the crisis to originate in the House — at funding state and local governments.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, pushed back last week against the idea of sending any money to the states, saying they should consider filing for bankruptcy. And Robert Cahaly, a Republican pollster, said his research had found that elements of the party’s base were growing increasingly impatient for an economic reopening — even as the rest of the country remains firmly against it.

“There were a lot of Republicans who in 2010 faced the music on the bailout,” Mr. Cahaly said, referring to the midterm elections in which Tea Party-aligned challengers won elections across the country on an anti-spending platform after Republican incumbents had voted for a series of large government rescue bills. “So there are Republicans who are going to be frustrated.”

But this week, Mr. McConnell softened his opposition to the notion of sending money to states. He is now pushing to attach language protecting businesses from legal liability if they reopen during the pandemic.

Ms. Pelosi has rejected that, and it’s not clear the public is behind it, either. In the A.P./NORC poll, 76 percent of Americans — including seven in 10 Republicans — favored requiring restaurants and bars to stay closed. And in the most recent Kaiser poll, four in five Americans — including 61 percent of Republicans — said that shelter-in-place restrictions were worth it to keep people safe.

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