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On Stimulus, It’s Easy Being Green

A new poll from Politico suggests that the public does not see Barack Obama’s stimulus package in the same category as one of the myriad number of bailouts that the Congress has passed, and that Republicans (or Democrats) counting on a populist backlash against the measure have their work cut out for them.

Politico’s poll (.pdf), conducted by the firm Garin-Hart-Yang, reports that 79 percent of Americans favor the stimulus, versus just 17 percent opposed. I would take some issue with GHY’s question wording, as it characterizes the stimulus in rather flattering terms (“a proposal to create jobs and strengthen the economy”) but does not mention the stimulus’s pricetag; this is not too far from message testing as opposed to opinion polling. Nevertheless, it suggests that — if framed appropriately by the administration — the stimulus could be quite popular indeed, a finding also implied by other surveys.

Perhaps the more interesting component of the Politico survey, however, is a series of questions asking Americans what sort of policies they think might or might not be effective at improving the economy. The percentage of respondents saying they expect a particular policy to be “very” or “fairly” effective is provided below:

Stricter enforcement and stronger regulations on         74
businesses, particularly in the financial sector, to
prevent future abuses

A major government investment in energy to develop 66
alternatives to imported oil and make the United
States a world leader in alternative energy innovation

A long-term effort to balance the budget and lower the 66
national debt

Lower taxes for the middle class 59

An across-the-board reduction in federal government 58

A major government investment in worker training and 57
re-training to ensure that America has a work force
prepared to meet the demands of a modern economy

A major government investment in infrastructure such 57
as roads, bridges, and mass transit to create jobs in
the short term and a strong, vibrant, modern economy
in the long term

A major government commitment to provide more 54
funding and support to community colleges, to ensure
more workers have access to training and education

Lower taxes for all Americans 50

Obviously, some of these responses are a bit contradictory — the public wants balanced budgets, for instance, but they also want certain types of spending. It’s interesting, though, that tax reductions actually aren’t all that popular, considering that lower taxes almost always tend to poll well. It’s also interesting that, from among the government spending programs that the survey addresses, alternative energy is by some margin the most popular.

I’m not sure why Obama isn’t doing more to highlight the green portions of the stimulus bill. The public seems to tolerate the spending on bridges and highways — but they also see it, perhaps not wholly improperly, as makework. The long-run benefits of the alternative energy programs, on the other hand, are far more intuitively appealing. If the central critique of the stimulus is that the debt we’re creating will be burdensome to future generations, that concern could be mitigated if the spending in question is portrayed as a down payment made on behalf of those future generations toward cleaning up the environment and mitigating dependence on fossil fuels. It also provides for some sense of purpose to the stimulus: we’ll come out of this, Obama can say, with the greenest, most energy-independent major industrial economy in the world, etc. etc.

Note: See also the Rasmussen poll on the stimulus, which also suggests that a majority of the public sees major government intervention is necessary and that as many people are concerned about the government doing too little as doing too much.

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.