A look at all the available survey data on public support for a job guarantee shows consistently strong support for the idea. It’s a winning idea for the Left.

Workers prepare to lift a new pedestrian bridge into place at the Stamford Transportation Center on August 26, 2023 in Stamford, Connecticut. (John Moore / Getty Images)

There has been steadily increasing interest in a federal job guarantee since Bernie Sanders reintroduced the concept to the American public in the wake of the 2016 presidential primaries.

The idea of a job guarantee is to provide a public option for struggling workers to find gainful employment — especially contributing to badly needed public infrastructure projects but also a wide range of other service-based work in education, health, recreation, and the arts. The idea has a long history in the United States going back to the large-scale job creation programs of the New Deal in the 1930s to the lesser-known Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) that, by 1978, had put 725,000 people into public sector employment.

Beginning in 2018, the idea of a job guarantee began to gain traction once again, in large part because politicians started to see it as good politics. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, for instance — far from a darling of the Left — tweeted in April 2018, “If Republicans could give $1.5 trillion in tax cuts to corporations . . . why can’t we invest a similar amount in a guaranteed jobs plan for regular Americans who are unemployed and willing to work to better their local community?” Senator Corey Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, also took up the cause of a job guarantee, arguing: “The federal jobs guarantee is an idea that demands to be taken seriously. . . . Creating an employment guarantee would give all Americans a shot at a day’s work and, by introducing competition into the labor market, raise wages and improve benefits for all workers.”

But what does the evidence really say about how the public views a job guarantee? Specifically, could the demand really help win over conservative and independent working-class voters?

Americans Consistently Support a Job Guarantee

Since 2018, nine publicly available polls, summarized in a table below, have tested the popularity of a federal job guarantee, including two that we at the Center for Working-Class Politics (CWCP) conducted. In short, the answer is yes, Americans clearly support a job guarantee. On average, polls have found 59 percent support for such a measure, though, as with all polling, the range of support varies widely depending on how the question is framed.

Support for a job guarantee is remarkably consistent across key demographics, including partisanship. A 2023 survey by Data for Progress, for example, found that while Democrats were more likely to support the policy than other voters (88 percent of Democrats responded favorably), independents were also overwhelmingly supportive (74 percent), as were a solid majority of Republicans, particularly those under forty-five.

Likewise, a 2022 survey we conducted with YouGov and Jacobin found that 56 percent of independents and a respectable 46 percent of Republicans favored a job guarantee (81 percent of Democrats were in favor). The survey also found that 65 percent of respondents who did not vote in the 2020 presidential election felt positively about a job guarantee, indicating the proposal’s potential value in motivating low-engagement voters. A 2018 poll conducted by Civis Analytics similarly pointed to the broad ideological appeal of a job guarantee, finding that voters who switched from Obama to Trump in 2016 showed a 29 percent net approval for the policy.

Yet the surveys also show that how you present a job guarantee to voters matters. Not surprisingly, given many Americans’ concerns about government spending, the two polls that tied a jobs program to potentially costly guarantees of a “good standard of living” (American National Election Studies) or a high guaranteed minimum wage and government-guaranteed health care (Rasmussen) found less backing.

The proposals that received the most support did not include big-ticket add-on items, or, like the Data for Progress survey, emphasized the broader value a job guarantee would contribute to society. That said, even the most ambitious versions of a job guarantee received near majority support, and the Civis survey that highlighted the need to raise taxes on those who make more than $200,000 a year did receive majority support.

 Survey
Year
Support for job guarantee
Question wording

Data for Progress
2023
74%
 

“Think about a potential government program which would guarantee a right to a job. This program would provide people with paid work opportunities for the next few years that could address national or community needs while helping people build skills and gain experience for future jobs. Would you support or oppose creating a program like this?”

 

Harris/Hill
2019
70%
 

Specific wording not given, simply reports percent of respondents who “would support a federal jobs program”

 

The Justice Collaborative Institute/Data for Progress
2020
64%
 

“Do you support or oppose a federal job guarantee as part of the federal government’s response to the current economic crisis?”

 

CWCP/Jacobin
2023
62%
 

“Please evaluate the following policy proposals to create good jobs in the United States. For each, indicate whether you would strongly approve, approve, neither approve nor disapprove, disapprove, or strongly disapprove if enacted: ‘Federal jobs guarantee that gives everyone who cannot find a job in the private sector the opportunity to work a stable, public sector job that pays a family sustaining wage.’”

 

CWCP/YouGov/Jacobin
2022
60%
“Please evaluate the following policy proposals. For each, indicate whether you would strongly approve, approve, neither approve nor disapprove, disapprove, or strongly disapprove if enacted: ‘Help American workers by enacting a federal jobs program to ensure that everyone is guaranteed the option of a stable job at a living wage.’”

 

Indeed
2018
56%
 

“Do you support a guaranteed job for those who want to work”

 

Civis Analytics
2018
52%
 

 

Specific wording not given. Survey asked whether respondents would be for or against a bill to guarantee a job to every American adult, to be paid for by a 5 percent income tax increase on those making over $200,000 per year.

 

 

Rasmussen
2018
48%
 

“Do you favor or oppose a proposal to create a federal jobs program that would guarantee every American at least a $15-an-hour job with health benefits?”

 

American National Election Studies
2020
46%
 

“Some people feel that the government in Washington should see to it that every person has a job and a good standard of living. Suppose these people are at one end of a scale, at point 1. Others think the government should just let each person get ahead on his/their own. Where would you place yourself on this scale, or haven’t you thought much about this?”

 

Average
 
59.1%
 

Can a Job Guarantee Sway Voters?

The polls we described above indicate whether voters are generally supportive of a job guarantee, not whether the policy could be a political asset for candidates. To assess this question, the CWCP fielded an experimental survey that asked respondents to choose between pairs of hypothetical congressional candidates who varied across a range of demographic, policy, and messaging dimensions.

One of the dimensions we tested was candidates’ economic policy preferences. We presented respondents with moderate and progressive versions of policies around jobs, the minimum wage, and tax hikes on the rich. Our results show that, even when accounting for the impact of other key factors that affect voters’ preferences toward political candidates (gender, race/ethnicity, class background, social policy preferences, etc.), a job guarantee still receives majority (52.4 percent) support. Not only that, but when candidates ran on a job guarantee, their support among respondents increased significantly relative to candidates running on other popular progressive economic policies such as raising the minimum wage or taxing the rich.

The only candidates who performed slightly better than those running on a job guarantee were those who supported a moderate “job training through tax credits for small businesses,” though this difference — 53.8 to 52.4 percent — was not statistically significant. More importantly, as shown in the figures below, only the job guarantee enjoyed majority support among Democrats, independents, and Republicans. What’s more, respondents from virtually all voter groups preferred candidates who promoted a federal job guarantee, including black respondents, swing voters, low-propensity voters, respondents without a college degree, and rural respondents.

Top: Overall Support for Candidates Running on a Job Guarantee (Jacobin/YouGov, 2022)
Bottom: Support for Candidates Running on a Job Guarantee by Partisanship (Jacobin/YouGov, 2022)

The Political Logic

Our 2022 survey not only showed the consistent appeal of a job guarantee across partisanship, but also that running on a job guarantee is not a political liability, even in the face of opposition attacks. In fact, respondents who were exposed to opposition messaging against job guarantee candidates viewed these candidates more favorably than respondents who were not exposed to any opposition messaging. Support for candidates running on a job guarantee was strongest when opposition messaging framed Democrats as cultural elitists who have lost touch with the working class, which is a common — and often effective — right-wing response to Democratic policy ideas. Respondents exposed to media messaging describing Democrats as cultural elites favored job guarantee candidates 58 percent of the time, compared to just 50 percent among respondents who did not receive any opposition messaging.

The evidence is clear: Americans like the idea of a job guarantee. Since Democrats’ economic policies are falling flat, they ought to consider the remarkable political strength of the job guarantee as a policy. The numbers consistently indicate that a job guarantee is a chance worth taking for candidates, particularly those who struggle among working-class voters. One of the major challenges facing these voters, as Les Leopold shows in his recent book Wall Street’s War on Workers, is the scourge of mass layoffs. To combat the economic and social instability created by constant cycles of unemployment, and to help raise wages across the board, a federal job guarantee could be an answer.

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