June 28, 2021 6:00am

Power Poll: Infrastructure deal looks promising; lowering Medicare-eligibility age not so much

Chattanooga Power Poll respondents are bullish on an infrastructure deal, but are worried COVID variants threaten economic recovery.

Photo of Chris Vass
Chattanooga, TN Correspondent

The big news Thursday afternoon was the announcement that President Joe Biden struck an estimated $1 trillion infrastructure deal with a bipartisan group of senators.

Of course, the yellow caution flags went up immediately, with pundits noting that the deal still has a ways to go. And it does.

Still, if Chattanooga Power Poll members are right, such a deal that will go a long way in shoring up our nation’s roads, bridges, public transit, ports and waterways, airports, etc., is not far off.

About two-thirds of respondents to this month’s Power Poll said they believe Congress will OK an infrastructure deal.

When asked, “Do you think Congress will agree on an emerging $1 trillion proposal to pay for transportation, broadband and water projects and approve this spending?”, 64% said "yes" and 26% said "no."

The Power Poll survey, conducted Monday through Thursday, drew 67 responses from various business, community and government leaders. The survey was sent to 112 Power Poll members and had a 60% response rate.

The monthly Power Poll survey gauges what influential business, civic, education and nonprofit leaders and elected officials are thinking. While the survey is in no way considered a scientific poll, its results offer insights into the opinions and beliefs of key decision-makers in the area.

While Power Poll respondents were optimistic about the prospects for a bipartisan deal on infrastructure, they sounded far more cautious about the threat of coronavirus variants turning up all over the country.

Almost 90% of survey takers said they are very or somewhat worried about variants potentially stalling our recovery and ability to return to “normal” life and business activity, especially in light of the fact that vaccinations rates in Tennessee and Georgia have slowed substantially since their rollout earlier this year.

About 46% of respondents said they are “very concerned” and 43% said they are “somewhat concerned” when asked, “How concerned are you about the coronavirus variants causing outbreaks of COVID-19 that could lead to restrictions in business and personal activity as we head into summer and fall?

Just 10% said they are not at all concerned.

Misinformation, even disinformation, about the vaccines, poor access to health care and good ol’ partisan politics have all played a role in lagging vaccination rates, particularly in the South.

Former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp and business consultant Zach Wamp said COVID-19 quickly morphed from a public health threat into a political firestorm.

“Vaccination rates followed red state/blue state status instead of actual vulnerabilities,” he wrote. “Politics has replaced ‘religion’ for too many people on both sides of the aisle. Politics is becoming a circus at the federal level and disinformation is our greatest domestic threat.”

Retired educator and local activist Franklin McCallie said had people fully accepted the vaccination from the outset, hundreds of thousands of lives could have been saved.

“History will record that it was a monumental tragedy that so many persons were duped into rejecting that truth,” McCallie wrote.

Power Poll respondents weighed in on one slice of another Democrat-backed proposal that is loaded with political and economic complexities: lowering the age at which people could qualify for Medicare from its current 65. Of course, this proposal is far from the limelight, with the pandemic, infrastructure and voting rights taking center stage.

Almost half of respondents, 49%, said “no” in answer to the question: “Do you support lowering the age of Medicare eligibility?” Another 21% said yes to lowering the age to 62; 17% said yes to lowering it to 60; and 14% said they didn’t know.

And finally, in a hopeful sign that the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t trashed all of our norms and rituals, it appears the handshake lives! Plenty of ink and video has been spent over the last year to describe the demise of the handshake and the how-to’s of alternative greetings and farewells.

It was well-known that former President Donald Trump was not a fan of the handshake, and Dr. Anthony Fauci was less than enthused about the traditional business greeting.

But three-fourths of Power Pollers indicated they do not think it’s time to abandon the practice.

When asked, “With our economy reopening quickly and business resuming more normally, do you think the handshake is dead?”, 80% said “no” while 8% percent said “I hope so” (12% said they don’t know).

So perhaps in coming weeks, as we all reclaim our professional habits and rhythms, we will meet one another on a downtown street or restaurant. I look forward to seeing you — and shaking your hand!

Contact Chris Vass, public editor at the Times Free Press, at cvass@timesfreepress.com.

Power Poll Members: Do you have a friend or colleague who should be on Power Poll? Please invite them to join!

About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

More on This Poll

More Polls

More on This Poll