Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Public support for health care reform continues to grow ...

... though the polling trends hardly show a decisive shift in favor.

Of course, it would be a mistake to get too fixated on the mysterious fluctuations of public opinion polling, but it might be OK to think speculatively about some intriguing recent patterns.

=> As of a week ago, the composite results of the major polls (leaving out the Rasmussen Poll, which has a record of tilting misleadingly to the right) showed that the gap between opponents and supporters of the Democratic health care bill, which opened up about 9 months ago and has continued to fluctuate in size ever since, had practically disappeared.

Obama's decision to get more publicly and directly engaged in this struggle may be having some slight influence in moving public opinion. (Polls continue to show that, by wide margins, more people like and trust Obama than either the Congressional Republicans or the Congressional Democrats.) Or possibly this trend has something to do with the fact that health insurance companies have been raising their rates all over the country recently? Who knows?

=> At all events, the latest polls suggest that this really is a bit of a trend, and not just a passing blip. Yesterday's NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, jointly conducted by Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart and Republican pollster Bill McInturff, shows the public evenly split on this issue. In fact, supporters number a statistically insignificant one percentage point more than opponents.
On health care, 46 percent say it would be better to pass the president’s plan and make changes to the nation’s health care system, versus 45 percent who would prefer not to pass it and keep the system as it is now.
So at least it can't be said that the polls show a clear majority opposing the bill.

=> But before supporters of health care reform get too giddy about this, it's important to note that the rest of the results from this poll suggest that members of the public continue to be highly confused and ambivalent about the whole question. And that goes beyond the fact that, for most of the past year, many people who tell pollsters that they oppose the bill actually support most of its main components when asked about them separately. Consider this, for example:
Thirty-six percent believe Obama’s plan is a good idea, versus 48 percent who think it’s a bad idea. That’s a slight (but statistically insignificant) change from January, when 31 percent said it was a good idea and 46 percent said it was a bad one.
Huh? More respondents still think it's a bad idea, but some of those favor passing it anyway. Either they're just sick of the whole topic, and want Congress to just get it over with and be done with it ... or they're still very skeptical, but they're willing to see the bill get passed and then hope for the best.

So how should wavering Congressional Democrats vote?
If their representative votes with Republicans to defeat the bill, 34 percent say they would be less likely to re-elect that member, 31 percent say they would be more likely to vote for the member, and 34 percent say it makes no difference.
OK, on balance that seems to add up to slight incentive to vote in favor of passing the bill. No, not exactly.
But if their member of Congress votes with Democrats to pass the legislation, 36 percent say they would be less likely to re-elect that member, 28 percent say they would be more likely to vote for the member, and 34 percent say it makes no difference.
That does look like a double bind.

=> According to McInturff, the Republican pollster, the basic implication for politicians is that "There is no easy place right now in the health care debate."

Hart, the Democratic pollster, draws a slightly different lesson:
Democratic respondents are overwhelmingly supportive of Obama’s health care plan -- they think it’s a good idea by a 64-16 percent margin, according to the poll. Hart argues that such strong support from the base will ultimately make a "yes" vote an easier sell for Democrats who are on the fence.

The key concern for these lawmakers isn’t losing some voters in the middle, he says. "It is alienating the base."
=> Well, since the public opinion polls aren't giving the Democrats a clear message about which vote would be most likely to give them an electoral boost, they should just go ahead and do the right thing: Pass the damn bill.

--Jeff Weintraub

P.S. Meanwhile, on other subjects, respondents did
overwhelmingly agree on this: The nation is on the wrong track, the economy has negatively affected the country, and Congress is broken.