Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Public support for the health care reform bill is growing

Here is one intriguing aspect of the larger political context within which the last-ditch Congressional struggle over health care reform is currently being fought out. According to a range of recent public opinion polls, support for the Democratic bill seems to be increasing.

Ever since mid-2009, the basic pattern has been that when Americans were asked about specific elements of the Democratic health care package, they generally supported them (ironically, support for a public option has been especially strong), but when asked whether they supported the overall bill, majorities said no. Over the past few months, however, polling suggests that this picture has been changing. One shouldn't get too excited about short-term swings in polling results, but these may indicate some real developments.

A recent Economist/YouGov poll actually showed majority support for "the proposed changes to the health care system being proposed by the Obama Administration: 53% in favor vs. 47% opposed. (For an overview of the results, see here.)

Few polls go quite that far. But the composite results of the major polls, taken together, do show a definite, though not dramatic, movement of public opinion in a pro-reform direction. If we overlook the Rasmussen poll, whose results almost always show a misleading tilt toward the right, the overall pattern suggests that the gap between support and opposition has all but disappeared (44.6% vs. 45.9%).

What we should make of this, if anything, will probably depend on whether or not this trend continues--and whether or not it has any effect on wavering Congressional Democrats. Meanwhile, Jonathan Chait explains what seems to be happening (below).

--Jeff Weintraub

New Republic (On-Line)
March 9, 2010
Health Care Reform Is Getting More Popular
By Jonathan Chait

Pollster Scott Rasmussen and pollster Doug Schoen have an anti-health care reform op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. The premise is that President Obama's sales efforts have utterly failed to budge stubborn public opposition:
One of the more amazing aspects of the health-care debate is how steady public opinion has remained. Despite repeated and intense sales efforts by the president and his allies in Congress, most Americans consistently oppose the plan that has become the centerpiece of this legislative season.
Launching from this premise, they proceed to explain why Americans hate the health care bill every day and in every way.

This would have been a good op-ed to write a month ago, when public opinion on health care reform had held steady for months. In fact, the public has moved sharply in the pro-reform direction over the last several weeks, with the margin of opposition falling by more than half. Here's the summary of polls [JW: clicking on the graph will expand it]:

And if you wanted to consider all polls other than Rasmussen's own -- on the grounds that pollsters who, say, write polemical right-wing might be less trustworthy than those who don't -- then the gap has virtually disappeared:

Of course, Rasmussen's inaccurate description of public opinion in the service of trying to defeat health care reform is all the more reason to treat his poll numbers with skepticism.