Poll: Young Americans say spending could offset sagging Biden approval

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Data: The Generation Lab; Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios

Two-thirds of adults under 30 want Congress to pass some mix of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure deal and President Biden's bigger social spending package — but they're torn over the legislative strategy or how big to go — according to new Generation Lab/Axios polling.

Why it matters: In the face of their own generation's declining approval of Biden, a plurality thinks passing either plan would improve Democrats' chances of keeping control of Congress in next year's midterms.

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  • Younger people overall are more likely to lean left or favor more social welfare.

  • Their lack of consensus over whether to take the smaller deal with bipartisan support and call it a win, or risk it all on the costlier, more controversial bid, offers new insights into Democrats' dilemma.

The big picture: The polling found Biden's approval has taken a dive among 18-to 29-year-olds, largely over his handling of the economy and the withdrawal from Afghanistan. That tracks with other recent national polls.

  • The impact may be most significant in terms of Biden's standing with young independents. For each whose approval of Biden has increased since he took office, four said it went down.

  • Young Republicans posted an even bigger dropoff in their approval — 69% said it's gone down while just 5% said it went up — but it's not clear many had supported Biden in the first place.

  • Young Democrats' approval for Biden has essentially held, with 45% saying it's the same, 26% saying it's gone up and 29% saying it's gone down.

By the numbers: 40% of the under-30 respondents said Congress should pass the $1.2 trillion "hard" infrastructure plan, regardless of what happens to "soft" infrastructure. Those with bachelor's degrees or higher were most likely to hold this view.

  • 27% favored the path of holding out for the reconciliation package (which Biden once targeted for $3.5 trillion but now says must be closer to $2 trillion to succeed) — even if the gamble meant potentially sinking the Senate-passed infrastructure deal.

  • 33% said Congress should pass neither because the nation can't afford it, a view dominated by Republicans and those with high school degrees or some college.

  • 47% of respondents said Democrats would be more likely or much more likely to retain control of Congress if instrastructure or social spending passed; 35% said it would make no difference; and 17% said it would make them less likely or a lot less likely to stay in power.

  • These were their assessments of how others would vote, while a majority said it wouldn't make them more or less likely to back Democrats.

Between the lines: Biden still enjoys higher favorability (50%) among these respondents than other political leaders involved in the negotiations — and majorities of the respondents said they either didn't know or weren't sure what to think of pivotal Democrats including Sens. Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema and Rep. Pramila Jayapal.

What we're watching: In another potentially ominous sign for Biden, his handling of COVID was mostly a wash with these younger respondents: 30% say he hasn't enacted enough pandemic measures while 29% say he has put too many in place.

  • Young Democrats, Republicans and independents all blamed the unvaccinated the most for the country's grim COVID landscape — but with different degrees of conviction.

  • 55% of Democrats, 34% of independents an 21% of Republicans said unvaccinated Americans are the force most responsible for the nation’s situation.

Methodology: The survey work was conducted in two waves, from Sept. 30-Oct. 5 with a nationally representative sample of 812 respondents ages 18-29, and Sept. 30-Oct. 8 with a nationally representative sample of 804 respondents ages 18-29, with margins of error of +/- 3.4 percentage points.

  • The Generation Lab conducts polling using a demographically representative sample frame of young people around the country, across educational, racial, political, geographic, gender and economic backgrounds.

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