POLITICO-Harvard poll: Public strongly backs Biden’s demand for Covid aid

“They are overwhelmed with wanting to get Covid under control and wanting to get their economic lives back together,” said Robert Blendon, a health policy and political analysis professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who designed the poll.

Nearly 90 percent of poll respondents ranked passing aid for businesses and individuals hurt by the pandemic’s economic effects as “extremely important.” More than eight in 10 expressed the same enthusiasm for federal action expanding access to food stamps and bolstering support for testing and vaccination efforts.

Though the poll was conducted in late December — before Congress passed its latest $900 billion relief package — Blendon said the strong bipartisan support for a range of pandemic response initiatives indicates there’s still plenty of appetite for more aid.

That’s especially the case when it comes to helping small businesses and people who lost jobs, two areas where Democrats and Republicans overwhelmingly agreed fresh aid should be directed, rather than toward large corporations.

And that’s just the start for Democrats, who ranked 21 of the 23 separate priorities as “extremely important,” versus just nine for Republican respondents. Those issues stretched beyond the pandemic into a range of areas, from addressing climate change to lowering drug prices and boosting funding for public education.

But Democrats’ robust support for wide-ranging federal action means Biden will immediately face competing pressures from his base to pursue an aggressive agenda, Blendon said, especially after twin victories in Georgia’s runoff elections will give Democrats a Senate majority and unified control of Washington.

Biden has already signaled plans to immediately pursue another major coronavirus aid bill, which will likely include a renewed push to send families $2,000 stimulus checks.

Beyond the pandemic, the polling showed strong public appetite for major health care legislation, though Republicans were much less supportive of proposals to expand government coverage.

Roughly 92 percent of Democrats said it was “extremely important” to pass legislation ensuring all Americans have health coverage, with 91 percent backing a crackdown on prescription drug prices.

“Democrats have an enthusiastic audience among their core party people for a really big agenda and universal coverage, once they get Covid and the economy somewhat under control,” Blendon said.

Those heightened expectations could prove tricky to meet, in the face of Republican opposition and very narrow Democratic majorities in Congress.

Given Biden’s pledge to work with Republican lawmakers, Blendon suggested the incoming administration could focus on drug prices, an issue that for years registered among the public’s top concerns even amid the pandemic. Republicans ranked drug prices as their third most important priority, behind Covid-19 relief and economic stimulus.

“The fact that is so high is absolutely striking,” Blendon said. “Even though that’s not the focus of a lot of the discussions, it really is bothering people.”

Separately, the poll also showed the stakes of Biden’s pledge to reopen most schools within his administration’s first 100 days.

Among parents or guardians of schoolchildren aged five to 17, more than half said the academic learning experience has been worse during this pandemic-affected school year, compared with the prior year. Roughly half also said this school year has had a negative impact on their children’s social and behavioral skills.

“There is going to be unbelievable pressure to try to open the schools,” Blendon said of the challenges awaiting the Biden administration.

The poll surveyed 1,007 adults from Dec. 15-20. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.6 percentage points for the full sample and plus or minus 5.2 percentage points for questions asked of smaller samples.