If Republicans win back Congress in the 2022 midterm election, they will face a huge dilemma. How will they interpret or resend the benefits the Democrats have bestowed upon middle and lower-class Americans?
Psychologists tell us that rewards – called reinforcers if the reward changes behavior — provide pleasure, gain attention and increase the likelihood of a bond to the benefactor. Democrats are banking on it. Assumedly, the Biden administration has other reasons besides buying votes. But, other motives aside, they also know that checks in the mail, and other benefits will win over voters.
As Americans already know, President Joe Biden and Democrats envisage multitrillion-dollar programs they believe will transform America. Here is a short sample stemming from the almost two trillion dollars sprawling 5,593-page COVID Relief package that has already passed.
The most well-known piece is the stimulus payments: $1,400 cash payments provided to those earning up to $75,000 annual income, head of households earning up to $112,500, and couples with incomes up to $150,000. Eligible dependents, including adult dependents, also each receive $1,400.
But the stimulus payments are only the tip of a vast financial iceberg. The legislation includes financial aid to the Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, rental support, financial relief for the homeless, and mortgage assistance. In addition, there is funding to aid nursing homes and their staff, unemployment insurance, paid family leaves, housing, health care and pensions.
In many ways, the American Jobs proposal now working its way through Congress may be even more potent in its impact than the COVID-relief legislation. Yes, roads, bridges and highways would be profoundly obvious, but potential new railroad lines have cities and businesses drooling.
In addition, there is money supporting the electric car market and all its associated needs. There is money for pipes and structures to ensure clean drinking water and billions to expand broadband and the power infrastructure like the electric grid. If these were not enough, billions are set aside for affordable and sustainable housing and still more billions for the “care economy” and workforce development. The latter includes affordable child and elder care funding, benefits that are set for the long-term.
The columnist Paul Krugman recently pointed out the problems Republicans might face dealing with the Democrats’ legislation. He writes, “Just imagine trying to take away affordable childcare, universal pre-K, and paid leave for new parents once they’ve become part of the fabric of our society.”
Of course, giving benefits to someone doesn’t guarantee people will vote for you. Humans are complex, and those receiving a stimulus payment or child support can perceive it as government largess without attributing it as favorable. Voters have party loyalty, political distrust, family habits, racial biases, personal identity, hatred of opponents, fears and many other competing influences.
The last president to lavish vast amounts of federal spending on the broad middle and lower class of Americans was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt won 61% of the popular vote and carried all but two states in his first election as an incumbent. No one predicts that type of endorsement for the Democrats in the 2022 midterm election, but the power of massive rewards to the American public stands and could keep the Democrats in control.
So what are the Republicans to do to counter the effects of the massive infusion of benefits? Should they rant about Socialistic trending? Should they claim that the federal government is intruding on the lives of Americans? Unfortunately, such campaign messages will face significant resistance against tangible benefits that improve lives, especially the lives of those in need.
Receiving rewards is powerful. Taking them away, or even suggesting that they are bad, is much more potent in the emotional resistance it creates. Just try to take away a teddy bear from an infant, ask an adolescent to move away from his or her friends, or get seniors to take a reduction in their social security payments. Taking away childcare assistance, subsidies to early education, and much more will not be easy. Republicans will have their hands full in managing this problem.
Robert Pawlicki is a retired psychologist and a frequent contributor to the Savannah (Ga.) Morning News. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.