Nov. 10, 2021
Nearly 30 years after the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 became law, Congress has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to guarantee paid family and medical leave to every working person in the United States. Paid leave was part of every Democratic candidate's presidential platform in 2016 and 2020. It was a central part of President Biden's Care Economy and Women's agendas during Biden's presidential campaign. And it is part of both the Biden-Harris American Families Plan and Congress's Build Back Better Act, complementing other historic and transformational investments in child care, financial support for working families with children and home- and community-based care investments for older people and people with disabilities.
Paid leave is the one item in the Build Back Better agenda that can directly touch people's lives across age, region, community type, family structure, party, ideology, or life stage, and yet there is some risk that paid leave will fall out of the package. The data presented here, and the need people have for paid family and medical leave, show this would be a mistake.
The paid family and medical leave program Congress has proposed would directly benefit to an estimated 18.5 million workers per year who do not currently have paid leave through their jobs and need family or medical leave, boost families' incomes during leave so they can afford basic expenses, and contribute to job growth through additional consumer spending. Paid leave would have multiple important outcomes, including: creating greater economic security and better health for workers, children and older adults; providing more stability for small businesses; and boosting the country's economic growth through greater labor force participation and higher earnings for women and caregivers.
Polling and the recent state election results show that people want policies that are directly responsive to the challenges they and their families face. Paid leave fits the bill and must be enacted as part of Build Back Better.
Three key findings from recent public polls show the broad popularity of paid family and medical leave, its importance to voters, and the durability of its popularity and appeal over time.
Two surveys conducted in October—one from CBS News/You Gov Poll, October 6-8, 2021 (2,054 adults in the U.S., margin of error +/- 2.6 percentage points) and another from Politico/Morning Consult, October 30-November 1, 2021 (1,996 registered voters, margin of error +/- 2 percentage points)—confirm enduring public support for paid leave, even in a highly partisan and divided political climate. Moreover, these findings bolster earlier research that, for years, has shown that paid leave captures broad public approval and is a winning and motivating issue among voters.
(1) Paid family and medical leave is one of the most popular elements in the Build Back Better agenda and the only one that touches every demographic in the country.
Paid leave consistently garners support from more than seven in ten U.S. adults and voters. In one of recent polls discussed in this post, it falls behind only Medicare expansions and Medicare prescription drug negotiations; in the other, it falls only behind Medicare expansions and funding for home care supports for older adults and people with disabilities.
Paid leave is more popular than other important policies that support working families with children, including Pre-K, child care and the Child Tax Credit, more popular than education supports like free community college, more popular than boosting health care access or offsetting the costs of health insurance, and more popular than every climate and energy investment tested. These findings are consistent with battleground state polling from this past spring and summer.
In the CBS News/You Gov Poll, 73% of adults in the U.S. said they support federal funding for paid leave, higher than for universal pre-K (67%) and free community college (61%)—falling behind only the Medicare expansions for dental, eye and vision and Medicare prescription drug negotiations.
In the Politico/Morning Consult Poll, registered voters were asked the extent to which they supported or opposed components of the Build Back Better Plan, which is "estimated to cost up to $1.75 trillion." Seventy percent of voters said they support "paid family and medical leave for new parents", with 37% expressing strong support and 33% saying they are somewhat supportive; just 20% oppose, including 9% who strongly oppose. Only Medicare expansions for vision, dental, and hearing benefits and support for home care services for seniors and people with disabilities gain higher marks.
Support for paid leave is statistically equal to "allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices" (72% support, including 41% strongly support) and is higher and more intense than other human services priorities, family tax policies, and every climate or clean energy provision tested.
In addition, the Politico/Morning Consult survey asked about the most important priorities in the Build Back Better Act among the items tested. Paid leave (21%) ranked equal to health insurance access (21%), higher than other children-focused policies, and substantially higher than tax credit and climate/clean energy policies. Only Medicare dental and vision and home care supports tested substantially higher, while Medicare hearing supports, affordable housing and college funding were named as important by slightly larger shares of voters.
Among subgroups of key constituencies, paid leave is especially important to women (25%), including Democratic women (28%), independent women (25%), Black voters (24%), and people in the west (24%).
(2) Paid leave is exceptionally popular among core Democratic voting groups, among women and men overall, and women of all parties.
Although paid leave is a policy that affects all working people, it has particular appeal to women, who bear a disproportionate share of family caregiving responsibilities, and to people of color, who are less likely to have paid family and medical leave through their jobs and more likely to have multi-generational care responsibilities.
In the CBS News survey, 90% of Democrats, 89% of Biden voters, 84% of Black adults, and 81% of Hispanic adults said they support paid leave, statistically equal to Pre-K and ahead of free community college.
In the Politico/Morning Consult survey (crosstabs), 82% of Democrats, 81% of Biden voters, 82% of Hispanic voters, and 72% of Black voters said they supported the Build Back Better's $1.75 trillion in investments, including paid family and medical leave for new parents. These figures would likely be higher if the poll question had tested comprehensive paid family and medical leave.
In terms of the ranking of priorities among key constituencies:
- Among Democrats and Biden voters, support for paid leave is equal to other core Democratic priorities, such as investing in child care and Pre-K, Medicare prescription drug reform, expanding access to Medicaid and clean energy investments. Paid leave has more support than Child Tax Credit expansion, limiting the cost of child care and ACA health insurance tax credits. Only Medicare expansion and support for eldercare gain higher levels of support.
- Among Hispanic voters, paid leave is the most supported policy of any of the health insurance, family policy, or climate policies, other than Medicare expansion and investments in elder care.
- Among Black voters, paid leave is of nearly equal importance to funding for child care and universal Pre-K and for Medicaid expansion, and more popular than any of the other family, health, or climate provisions besides Medicare expansions and support for older and disabled adults.
In both surveys, more than seven in ten women support paid leave, as do two-thirds of men (67%). Support among women is higher when the question is inclusive of family caregiving and medical leave rather than limited to paid leave for new parents (78% support in CBS News poll; 71% support in Politico/Morning Consult poll).
Paid leave gains higher support levels among both women and men than anything other than Medicare expansions in the CBS News survey (Table 1), and, in the Politico survey, paid leave has more support for anything other than Medicare expansions and support for older adults and people with disabilities (Table 2).
In the Politico/Morning Consult poll, where more extensive crosstabs were provided, majorities of women in all parties are also supportive of paid leave (83% of Democratic women, 71% of independent women, 51% of Republican women)—more so than any policy other than Medicare expansions for dental, health, and vision and support for older and disabled adults.
- Among Democratic women, support for paid leave equals support for Medicaid expansion and clean energy technology investments, and has more support than any other family, health, or climate policy.
- Among independent women, paid leave tests as well as Medicare prescription drug reform and has more support than any other health, family, or climate policy.
- Among Republican women, paid leave tests behind Medicare prescription drug reform but well ahead of any other family, health, or climate policy.
Support among women for paid leave as a top-testing family policy is consistent with polling by Lake Research Partners in summer 2021. The poll found paid family and medical leave to be the most popular element of the American Families Plan, selected by nearly one-third of all women (32%) and both college-educated women (32%) and women without a college degree (30%)—nearly twice as many as selected policies related to child care, Pre-K and the Child Tax Credit.
(3) Paid leave is unifying and popular with the moderate and swing voter groups, despite the politicization of the policy as part of the Democrats' Build Back Better agenda.
Paid leave is unifying. Majorities to super-majorities of Republicans and Independents, respectively, say they are supportive of paid leave in each of the two recent public polls, as well as in older surveys.
- More than seven in ten independents (72%), half of Republicans (50%), and 90% of Democrats are supportive in the CBS News/YouGov survey. Sixty-eight percent of independents, 58% of Republicans, and 82% of Democrats support paid leave for new parents in the Politico/Morning Consult survey. There are fewer partisan differences on paid leave than on most other issues tested in each of these surveys.
An eye toward other key groups is also instructive:
- Paid leave is the most supported policy among voters under 30 in the CBS News poll (83%) support, higher than Medicare reforms, pre-K or community college, and it has the support of 78% of 18-34 year olds (including 49% strong support) among in the Politico/Morning Consult survey.
- Seven in ten moderates (71%) and non-college educated voters (70%) in the Politico/Morning Consult survey support paid leave, equal to support for Medicare prescription drug negotiation and ahead of other family, health, and climate policies.
- 67% of suburban voters support paid leave, just behind those supporting Medicare prescription drug pricing negotiation, Medicaid expansion, and clean energy technology investments—well ahead of other family, health, and climate policies.
- 67% of rural voters support paid leave, behind Medicare prescription drug negotiation and Medicaid expansion but 10 to nearly 20 percentage points ahead of other family, health, and climate policies.
Support for paid leave among voters of all parties, and among moderates, suburban and rural voters, is a long-standing phenomenon. Election night polling from 2020 showed solid bipartisan support for paid leave and praise for elected officials who prioritize the issue. Before the pandemic, a national survey conducted in July 2018 showed that a national paid family and medical leave program had the support of 84% of voters, including Democrats (94%), Independents (83%), Republicans (74%) similar to pandemic battleground state polling from May 2021), and of voters in all types of communities. Pew Research Center polling from 2017 also showed solid bipartisan and wide-ranging support, as does polling dating back to 2016, 2014, and before.
This most recent polling makes clear: the time to pass paid family and medical leave is now. Voters want it, need it, and will be grateful to lawmakers who finally honor working families who need time to provide or receive care.
 The Politico/Morning Consult poll’s language only tested limited paid leave – “paid family and medical leave for new parents” – rather than more expansive paid leave. Question wording that is inclusive of family caregiving and personal medical leave usually attracts even higher levels of support.