The American Family Survey is an annual, nationwide study of 3,000 Americans by the Deseret News and the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University. See full survey report.

The American Family Survey is an annual, nationwide study of 3,000 Americans by the Deseret News and the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University. See full survey report.

When it comes to what Americans want Congress to do, the answer is often “yes, but. ...”

Yes, Americans want families to receive more financial assistance, but not through monthly payments like those that were sent out in 2021 as part of the American Rescue Plan. Yes, Americans want student loan relief, but not as expansive as what was proposed by the Biden administration. Yes, Americans want immigration reform, but what that looks like depends on who you ask.

Even as the extra financial help available to individuals and families during the pandemic has dried up, and despite the economic malaise that has settled over the country because of inflation, Americans still want Congress to forge a middle path on providing financial assistance, according to results from the latest American Family Survey. 

The American Family Survey was released nationally on Tuesday, by the Deseret News, Brigham Young University’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, and Brookings Institution. The nationally representative poll was conducted by YouGov on Aug. 8-15, with 3,000 Americans sharing their opinions on family-related topics, including what policies Congress should pursue. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.9 percentage points.

Expanded child tax credit payments 

The survey showed Americans are feeling a great deal of economic pessimism right now, which may be one of the reasons a majority of Americans say they want individuals and families to receive financial assistance — including 73% who say it’s very important or somewhat important for Congress to pass a bill to provide additional assistance to families with children; 57% who say it’s very or somewhat important for Congress to provide relief to Americans with student loan debt; and 64% who say they want Congress to temporarily suspend the federal gas tax. 

But even though there is support for Congress to increase payments to families, the survey found there is little support for the federal government to continue to make monthly payments under the expanded child tax credit. Only 34% said the government should continue with the monthly payments, while 41% said they shouldn’t, and 25% said they didn’t know. 

That may be because of how those payments were targeted. The full child tax credit was available to families with a combined household income of $150,000 a year, but partial credit could be received by families earning up to $400,000. 

Angela Rachidi, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who studies poverty, said child tax credits generally are a good way to provide assistance to low-income families, but the expanded child tax credit was not well targeted and was “confused” about what it was trying to accomplish.

The payments may have also contributed to the tight labor market and increased inflation, Rachidi said, noting that many economists have argued that all the pandemic relief, when factored together, likely contributed to these outcomes.

That may be one of the reasons support for direct payments to families dropped from 2021-2022, according to the American Family Survey study. Support for direct payments dropped by 9% since last year, from 57% to 48%, when compared to support for the federal government spending money on programs and institutions, which rose from 23% to 39% among families earning $40,000 or less. 

Despite these findings, the survey showed payments did help low-income families, but appeared less helpful for families with higher incomes. For families earning less than $40,000 a year, 77% said the payments either helped a lot or a little, while 72% of families earning less than $80,000 said the same thing. Only 44% of families earning more than $80,000 a year said the payments helped them. 

Rachidi said she favors policies that would keep government small and out of the way of families — including expanding school choice, which would make it less likely that families would need to move to a more expensive neighborhood to find good schools, or relaxing regulations that have driven up the cost of child care, like the requirement that preschool teachers need a college education. 

“There is very little evidence to suggest kids do better when their teachers have a college education, but there is evidence it drives up the cost,” she said. “It makes the problems they’re trying to solve even worse.” 

Others, though, say expanding the child tax credit could be a good thing — especially given the choppy economic waters we’re in. 

Kay Hymowitz, a Manhattan Institute fellow who studies family issues, said she agrees that the child tax credit is the best way to get support to families, but said she thinks it may need to be increased or expanded in the coming year. Either way, the federal government is likely going to have to step in to help families this year, she said. 

“There is a general consensus, not just among Democrats anymore, that there should be a tax credit, that families do need help,” she said. “Even before inflation, we were having these conversations. It’s even more important now.” 

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That said, both Hymowitz and Rachidi expressed concern about the lack of work requirements that were included with the Biden administration’s expanded child tax credit.

“There were concerns that there will be people who try to take advantage of the increase in benefits, that they may not pursue work in a way that would be most helpful for their families,” said Hymowitz. 

While there is growing economic frustration now, that wasn’t the case during the pandemic, even though many Americans experienced disruptions to their work and incomes. That’s due in part to the direct aid families received, according to BYU political science professor Christopher F. Karpowitz, one of the lead authors of the American Family Survey study. He also directs the BYU Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.  

He said there was bipartisan support for payments to families, although Republicans may be more in favor of targeted payments. 

“Supporting families, especially when it’s framed like that, can receive bipartisan support,” he said. “Americans across the political spectrum love their families.” 

Gun safety 

Other policies included in the poll were less popular with one party or the other, including background checks for guns. Even though Congress passed its first comprehensive gun safety bill in decades in June of this year, a majority of Americans — 53% — say it’s very important for Congress to expand background checks for gun purchases. But while 85% of liberal Democrats, and 72% of moderate Democrats said it was “very important” that Congress take up gun control again, only 38% of moderate Republicans and 23% of conservative Republicans agreed. 

But Karpowitz still sees some room in these results for compromise.

“Only 4 in 10 moderate Republicans are in favor of background checks for gun purchases, which is still a far cry from where moderate Democrats are, but it represents a potential for some level of bipartisan policymaking,” he said. 

“Sometimes we talk about these things — and legislators legislate — like all that matters are the extremes,” he said. “But on at least some issues, there’s some possibility of getting moderates to cross over.”


On immigration, Karpowitz saw less room for hope. While both Republicans and Democrats who responded to the survey favored immigration reform, they likely mean very different things, he said. While Republicans likely want more border enforcement, Democrats are more interested in additional resources to help process immigrants who are claiming asylum, he said.  

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On whether Congress should prioritize immigration reform, 77% of respondents said they thought it was very or somewhat important for lawmakers to tackle the issue. 

But on deporting unauthorized immigrants, for example, while at 40% a slight plurality of Americans now say they don’t support deporting immigrants if it means separating families, compared to 37% who say they support this policy, there was a stark difference between members of the different parties, with 59% of moderate and 75% of conservative Republicans favoring deportation, compared to 23% of moderate and 10% of liberal Democrats. 

There has, however, been an overall shift showing declining support for deportations since 2017, the last time this question was asked of survey respondents.  Five years ago, 46% said they favored deportation even if it meant families would be separated, compared to 32% who said they opposed this policy. 

Investigating Jan. 6 

There is also a stark partisan divide on whether or not Congress should prioritize investigating the events of Jan. 6, 2021. While 80% of liberal Democrats and 58% of moderate Democrats want Congress to make this a priority — making it one of the top policy priorities for Democrats — the same was true of only 14% of moderate Republicans and 5% of conservative Republicans. Overall, 36% of respondents said it is very important for Congress to undertake the investigation, with another 16% saying it is somewhat important.

Hope for bipartisanship 

On the areas where the American Family Survey delved into the details of policy preferences — whether on government payments to families, abortion or student loan relief — the majority seem to favor a middle way forward, whether by tailoring payments or student loan relief to lower income families or limiting late-term abortions. Karpowitz said this shows there is a possibility of bipartisan policymaking if that’s what congressional leaders are interested in pursuing. 

“When politicians and elected officials take positions that are far out to the extreme — like no aid to families, or aid that is not sensitive to income — there isn’t widespread enthusiasm for that sort of thing,” he said. “There is a very broad middle.”