Poll: Majority of voters support another extension of unemployment benefits

Congress isn't likely to pass an extension before Thanksgiving, but supporters of the federal emergency benefits — up to 99 weeks in states with the highest levels of unemployment — have been "assured a vote" on an extension by House and Senate leaders, Christine Owens, executive director of NELP, said today on a conference call. 

She is expecting to hear about a "more concrete plan later this week." 

Lawmakers will be hard-pressed to get a bill to President Obama before the deadline unless the House can pass a measure before next week's Thanksgiving holiday. That would leave it up to the Senate to pass the bill within the first couple of days of returning to Washington on Nov. 29. 

Overall, 60 percent of those polled support an extension, versus 37 percent who are opposed. 

A majority of those asked in all regions — at least 55 percent or higher — agree an extension should be passed. 

Broken down by party, 79 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of Republicans support an extension. Support slips with Republicans, with 38 percent saying Congress should move forward. 

NELP and other organizations are pushing for a one-year extension, arguing the unemployment rate is expected to remain elevated through 2011. 

Estimates state the cost of a year-long extension would be about $65 billion. 

When asked to consider the deficit, Democrats and independents overwhelmingly support the idea that it is too early to cut benefits, 83 percent and 80 percent, respectively. The poll shows a majority of Republicans, 55 percent, also agree. 

Senate Republican opposition to adding to the deficit caused a lapse in benefits during the summer for nearly 3 million people who had been out of work for at least six months when the $34-billion bill was held up because it wasn't offset. 

The poll also found that 72 percent of college graduates and 74 percent of those making more than $50,000 a year agree it is too early to cut benefits.

A majority of voters in all regions of the country support continuing to provide benefits instead of cutting them due to the deficit, especially in the South (78 percent).

Even though those polled weren't asked for a specific timeframe, 67 percent said they want the government to continue providing benefits "until the unemployment rate comes down substantially."

By party, 82 percent of Democrats, 70 percent of independents and 49 percent of Republicans want to see a decline in the unemployment rate before changing benefits.

During the past 60 years, the highest unemployment rate at which federal unemployment benefits have been cut off was 7.2 percent, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. 

From Nov. 5-8, Hart Research Associates conducted a telephone survey among 802 registered voters across the country. The survey’s margin of error is 3.5 percentage points for the full sample, and it is higher among subgroups.