by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Everyone’s asking questions about Senator Joe Manchin. The West Virginian is the decisive vote on the $3.5 trillion spending bill under consideration in Congress, and so far, he’s put up roadblock after roadblock. The Left is perplexed: Why is this lifelong Democrat standing in the way of a huge progressive victory? The Right is pleasantly surprised, and perhaps a little bit wary: Why is this longtime liberal acting like a conservative?
I prefer a different question: Is Senator Manchin the only Democrat who can read polls?
Manchin is taking stands that enjoy broad public support. I think he deeply believes in what he’s doing. But it’s also the case that he’s advocating policies that align with the views of a clear majority of Americans. Manchin is a man of the mainstream — not just the West Virginia mainstream, but the national mainstream.
Start with the bill’s price tag. While partisan surveys show people either loving or despising the idea of $3.5 trillion in new federal spending, middle-of-the-road pollsters indicate that there are widespread concerns about adding massive sums to the federal debt. Gallup’s 2021 research shows that more than three-quarters of Americans are concerned about federal spending and deficits, with about half worried “a great deal.” A spring Ipsos poll found that three out of four Americans think too much national debt will hurt the economy.
If mounting debt is a concern for voters, the massive spending bill should be a political nonstarter. Yet Manchin seems to be one of the few Democrats who recognizes the danger of passing the bill and is endeavoring to do right by the public. There’s a reason his call for a “strategic pause” on the $3.5 trillion plan has 60 percent support overall and nearly two-thirds support in suburbs.