Stimulus checks were wildly popular, but the monthly child tax credit hasn't been so far.
Part of the reason is that not everyone is getting the money since only parents qualify.
Polling shows older people who don't directly benefit especially dislike it, and they tend to be Republican.
This year, government cash flowed to tens of millions of Americans.
Democrats approved $1,400 direct payments as part of President Joe Biden's stimulus law. It was the third round of stimulus payments, and poll after poll indicated the measure was popular with a huge majority of the public. But those one-time payments were followed up with a new benefit program: a one-year overhaul of the child tax credit that boosted its amount and widened its reach to the poorest families.
It was designed to establish a new link between the federal government and children, similar to the connection that's existed for over eight decades between Social Security and seniors. The near-universal child benefit ensures up to $300 monthly to parents per child, depending on their age. It has formed a cornerstone of the Democratic endeavor to lift children out of poverty, and early studies shows it's already been effective.
Yet Americans so far aren't fully sold on keeping the program.
The latest data provided to Insider from the liberal polling group Data for Progress and Fighting Chance for Families indicated that support to make the child tax credit expansion permanent has generally hovered around 50% since the first checks went out in mid-July.
With consistent polling of around 1,200 likely voters on the issue via web panel, the sample group is made up of self-identified Democrats, Republicans, and independents, with a three-percentage point margin of error. The following poll was taken from December 3 to 6.
Part of the opposition is simple: Not everyone is getting the money. "I think the big thing is with the stimulus checks, everyone got them," Sean McElwee, founder of the liberal polling organization, said in an interview. He added the child tax credit goes to "a smaller subset of people."
Indeed, recipients of the child allowance constitute a smaller pool. The Internal Revenue Service issued 169 million direct payments under the stimulus law. By comparison, the federal government is distributing monthly checks to 35 million families with children each month.
Support for the measure shoots up among beneficiaries of the cash, which tend to be parents or grandparents. "The biggest takeaway here is that among recipients, independents and Republicans love the Child Tax Credit," Lindsay Owens, the executive director at the left-leaning Groundwork Cooperative, told Insider.
Partisanship plays a huge role in people's views regarding the program. When simply asked whether they support it, Democrats overwhelmingly supported the temporary benefit, a slight majority of independents did, and Republicans were nearly split.
'Democrats have this naive idea that if they just send people money, people will like the Democrats'
One area of resistance to the child allowance is concentrated among Republican-leaning seniors, who are generally skeptical of cash aid programs. The group's polling indicates that opposition to keeping the expanded child tax credit shoots up for people who are more than 70 years old: 36% in favor compared to 60% against it.
"Americans have very little exposure to social insurance until they're on Medicare and Social Security," Samuel Hammond, a poverty expert at the Niskanen Center, told Insider. "Any expansion to programs aimed at kids and young families can be threatening to the AARP-set."
He went on: "The retirees, Social Security recipients, and the AARP want to hold a strong line in defense of existing entitlement programs — and ironically end up being soft opponents to expansions to younger generations."
Owens, who has studied the data closely, argued that Democrats "will be in a strong position to run on an incredibly popular and effective program" in the 2022 midterms.
"Low support for the child tax credit among seniors is certainly a political hurdle, but not an insurmountable one," she said.
Democrats are counting on the program to reap rewards for them in a daunting political landscape in next year's midterms, which is favoring Republicans. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, chair of the Finance Committee, said he'd been hearing from constituents in his home state about how they're using the new money.
"They said, 'Hey Ron, things like buying shoes,'" Wyden told Insider on Thursday evening. "So anybody who thinks that this is some luxury kind of thing, that's the account from the real world."
But there are signs giving people money may not be a recipe for success at the ballot box either. An NPR/Marist poll released on Thursday found that only 40% of respondents credited Democrats for Biden's stimulus checks, even though the party approved it over staunch Republican opposition.
"I think Democrats have this naive idea that if they just send people money, people will like the Democrats," Hammond said.
The last payment is set to go out on December 15. Democrats on Capitol Hill are scrambling to renew it for a year as part of their $2 trillion social and climate spending bill. Sen. Joe Manchin hasn't signaled whether he'd give a thumbs-up to the sprawling measure, and has thrown cold water on it at times.
McElwee argued it will take time for attitudes to shift.
"At the end of the day, we live in a deeply polarized country," McElwee said. "And the idea that any single government program, no matter how popular, is going to immediately shift through these long-held ideological and partisan beliefs is very unrealistic. We're talking about a margin game here."
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