A poll released Monday by Public Policy Polling shows that an overwhelming majority of voters oppose ending benefits for the long-term unemployed and that House Republicans face the risk of significant voter backlash in 2014 if they allow the benefits to expire.
The poll, funded by the liberal advocacy group Americans United for Change, was conducted Dec. 19-20 after House Republicans blocked moves to renew the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program due to expire Saturday.
The benefits were excluded from the recent Paul Ryan-Patty Murray budget deal after House Speaker John Boehner insisted that he would not consider a proposal to extend them without compensatory cuts to other programs.
An angry House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) described failure to include the benefits in the budget deal an "immorality," while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he would make efforts to bring the proposal to vote by Jan. 7, 2014.
To determine the level of public support for extending unemployment benefits, PPP surveyed voters in four Republican-held swing congressional districts and Boehner's (R-Ohio) district.
The poll found that an overwhelming bipartisan majority of voters supported extending long-term unemployment benefits.
The poll also found that majority of Republican voters disapproved of House Republicans allowing the benefits to expire.
To determine whether those voters who said they supported extending the benefits would be influenced by the issue when casting votes, PPP also asked respondents if their representative's failure to support extending long-term unemployment benefits would make them less likely to vote for him.
The poll found that a bipartisan majority of voters in the four swing districts said they were less likely to vote for the Republican incumbent in 2014 if he were to vote to end unemployment benefits.
For instance, in California's 31st Congressioanl District, where Republican Rep. Gary Miller is the incumbent, 68 percent of voters supported the continuation of unemployment benefits; only 28 percent supported ending them. Republicans supported extending benefits 54-41.
In Colorado's 6th District where Rep. Mike Coffman is the GOP incumbent, voters supported extending the benefits 63-33. Republicans supported extending the benefits by a narrow 48 percent majority.
In Michigan’s 1st District, held by Rep. Dan Benishek (R), voters supported continuing benefits 66-29. A majority of Republicans (60 percent) favored extending benefits.
In Rep. Rodney Davis’s (R) 13th District, Illinois, voters favored continuing benefits 66-29 percent, with a majority of Republicans (53 percent) in favor.
Lastly, in Boehner's home district, majority of voters (63-34) said they want unemployment benefits extended. A majority of Republican voters (52 percent) supported it.
The pollsters noted that the vulnerability of the five GOP members of Congress is worsened by the fact that they have weak approval ratings below 50 percent, considered the safety threshold for an incumbent.
Boehner has only a 40 percent approval rating, compared to 50 percent who disapprove.
Mike Coffman has an approval rating of 42 percent; Dan Benishek, 41 percent; Rodney Davis, 33 percent and Gary Miller, 29 percent.
According to PPP:
Representatives who vote to cut off extended unemployment benefits could pay a high price at the polls next year. In all four of the swing districts we looked at voters say they will be less likely to vote for the Republican incumbent by at least a nine-point margin next year if they cast such a vote. Additionally, the independent voters who are so key to these Congressmen’s survival say in each district that they would consider a vote to cut off unemployment a reason to vote for someone else.
The Washington Post comments that the poll is part of liberal strategy to push Republicans to support renewing the benefits when Congress resumes in 2014.
As I noted in an earlier Allvoices report, the Republican position on issues such as long-term unemployment benefits and nutrition assistance for the poor reflects the elitist ideological outlook, which informs Republican public policy decision-making.
Expiration of jobless benefits on Saturday will affect an estimated 1.3 million long-term unemployed Americans.
Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that despite the fact that the national unemployment rate is falling, more than one-third of the unemployed have been out of work for more than 27 weeks, with California having about 215,000 long-term unemployed and Michigan with 189,700 unemployed.
The Washington Post refers to a White House report that estimates that failure to renew the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program would cost 240,000 jobs.
It takes a rigidly ideological approach to public policy formulation to exclude such stark facts from consideration in decision-making.
That Republicans would hold on firmly to their elitist policy positions even at the risk of provoking voter backlash and providing their opponents with ammunition to use against them shows the extent of commitment to an anti-populist agenda and possibly explains observations about the narrow constitution of the Republican voter base.
PPP’s poll will add to pressure on the House leadership after moderate Republicans urged Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) to reconsider.