Earlier this month, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) posted a jarring tweet: After being one of 49 Republican senators who voted against the American Rescue Plan (ARP), he proudly boasted that the pandemic relief it provided would be coming soon.
“Independent restaurant operators have won $28.6 billion worth of targeted relief,” Wicker wrote in his post. “This funding will ensure small businesses can survive the pandemic by helping to adapt their operations and keep their employees on the payroll.”
Independent restaurant operators have won $28.6 billion worth of targeted relief.— Senator Roger Wicker (@SenatorWicker) March 10, 2021
This funding will ensure small businesses can survive the pandemic by helping to adapt their operations and keep their employees on the payroll.https://t.co/Ob4pRb9Xh4
As Vox’s Aaron Rupar explained, Wicker did advocate for restaurant aid, and introduced a bipartisan amendment alongside Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) that guaranteed this funding. However, he still voted against passage of the final bill, prompting immediate backlash for this tweet. Many called him out for trying to take credit on something he not only didn’t support, but that his party actively lobbied against. In the final vote, 50 Senate Democrats backed the bill, while 49 Republicans opposed it, since one GOP member was absent.
Messaging like Wicker’s, though, might just work to muddle how some people perceive his support for the legislation.
According to new polling from Vox and Data for Progress, some likely voters think that the relief package had bipartisan support — even though not a single congressional Republican voted for it. In a survey conducted March 5-7, around the time the stimulus bill passed the Senate (and before Wicker’s tweet), 21 percent of likely voters said they believed Republicans supported the ARP, including 31 percent of Republicans. Sixty percent of likely voters said they thought Republicans opposed the ARP, and 18 percent didn’t know.
Similarly, there are past votes — like the one on the 2017 tax cuts — which some likely voters perceive as bipartisan per the DFP poll, even though they happened solely along party lines. This dynamic indicates that bipartisanship on legislation or nominees is a perception that in some cases doesn’t necessarily align with how lawmakers actually vote.
And when it comes to the recent legislation, Republicans, in particular, seem to think that GOP lawmakers are more supportive of stimulus than they actually are, a trend that echoes past DFP polling. A previous survey has found, too, that some GOP voters think the party is far more generous on economic policies than it really is.
Questions of bipartisanship have been raised frequently on the ARP and how the White House intends to approach other legislation: Democrats have faced criticism from Republicans for approving stimulus via budget reconciliation on a partisan basis, and considering the same for infrastructure legislation. Because of Republican opposition to a comprehensive aid package, Democrats opted to advance stimulus on their own. Despite GOP handwringing about this approach, the American Rescue Plan is broadly popular and has 61 percent support, according to a recent CNN poll. Other polls have shown even higher support.
Now that the policy has proven so popular, Republicans — it seems — may try to convince some voters that they backed a proposal they didn’t vote for at all.
The Data for Progress/Vox survey included 1,429 likely voters, with a margin of sampling error of 3 percentage points.
Some Republicans think the GOP backed more coronavirus relief than it did
There’s a segment of Republicans who believe their party was more supportive of relief policies than it really was: According to this poll, 17 percent of Republicans thought GOP members backed raising the minimum wage as part of pandemic aid, and 48 percent of Republicans thought GOP members supported state and local aid in the package. (Both measures were ones that most Republican lawmakers did not want to be part of coronavirus relief.)
That viewpoint could be driven by a desire to see the party’s policies as more supportive for constituents and more focused on aid, DFP analyst Ethan Winter has previously explained.
A proportion of Republicans — 31 percent — would rather see their party provide relief to people rather than fight for small government and reductions to the national debt, a potential sign that some GOP voters might want their party to be more generous than it has been when it comes to stimulus.
When told that Republican voters and governors backed ARP, even as Congress members opposed it, 42 percent of Republicans surveyed said they considered it a bipartisan bill, while 45 percent said they did not, and 12 percent didn’t know.
These findings are consistent with a previous DFP study, which found that some Republican voters said their party supported policies like expanding Medicaid, which it has opposed. Winter notes that this dynamic has been around for some time:
This is a long-running trend, of voters, especially Republican voters, denying the extremism of the positions that the party holds on questions of political economy. Matthew Yglesias, formerly of Vox, terms this phenomenon “the politics of incredulity.” For him, such voters are a major reason why these conditions persist. He argues “voters find [the Republican Party’s position on economic issues] so outlandishly bad that they’ll only believe someone espouses them if you can convince them first that the person in question is a heartless monster.”
For Republican voters in particular, Yglesias adds: “Consequently, people who align with Republicans on broad values themes — whether opposition to abortion rights, love of guns, patriotism, or panic at the thought of a diversifying country — find it simply not credible that their champions are actually running on a politically toxic agenda that would clearly lose elections.”
Past partisan votes aren’t necessarily perceived that way
This survey also examined past votes on legislation and nominees that were heavily partisan and finds that perceptions of those aren’t as clear-cut either: For instance, 19 percent of likely voters, including 25 percent of Democrats, believed Democratic lawmakers supported repealing the Affordable Care Act even though they overwhelmingly voted against doing so in 2017.
The perception of other partisan votes, including the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett and the passage of the 2017 tax cuts, both of which no Democrats voted to support, was also skewed for some people: 20 percent of likely voters, including 18 percent of Democrats, thought a majority of Democrats backed the tax cuts even though none did. In that same vein, 16 percent of likely voters, including 22 percent of Republicans, thought Republicans opposed the tax cuts even though most of the party championed them.
While many voters’ understanding of bipartisanship matches the reality of how lawmakers voted, a segment of voters’ perceptions do not. That discrepancy has enabled lawmakers — Republicans in particular — to try to frame themselves as supporters of popular policies, even if their voting records don’t reflect this backing at all.
It’s how Republicans were able to claim their support for people with preexisting conditions during 2018 congressional campaigns, even after many voted against such protections. And it’s how lawmakers like Wicker are able to tout stimulus provisions after voting against passing the stimulus bill itself.