Tuesday, January 12, 2010

New poll shows broad public support for health-care reform, even as Obama's approval ratings suffer

At The Plum Line, Greg Sargent, delving into a CBS poll on the health-care reform bill currently in Congress, makes a great point about popular support for reform -- and for Obama. Allow me to quote his post in full:

Could Obama's dip to new lows on health care be driven partly by the fact that the reform proposal isn't ambitious enough?

The internals of the new CBS poll suggest that this could be the case: They show that more people think reform doesn't go far enough in multiple ways than think it goes too far.

The CBS poll finds that Obama's approval rating on health care has dipped to 36%. But the poll also asked whether people think the reform proposal, in various ways, goes too far, is about right, or doesn't go far enough:


In every one of those polled — covering Americans, controlling costs, and regulating insurance companies — more think the bill doesn’t go far enough.

To be sure, Americans seem close to evenly divided on the question of whether the proposal goes too far or not far enough. But the latter category outnumbers the former, suggesting that the desire that reform be more ambitious is a key factor driving dissatisfaction with Obama — even though that possibility is rarely discussed by the big news orgs or by top-shelf pundits.

The "big news orgs" have taken up (i.e., manufactured, with the help of Republican propaganda) the narrative that reform deeply divides the American people and may not have the support of a majority, and may actually be losing support.

But there is a big difference between this bill in particular and reform in general. While it is possible to support both, as I do, it is also possible to support reform but not the bill. This is the position of many on the left who, understandably, want reform to go further and therefore for the bill to be more robust, with a public option, if not a single-payer system. (Personally, I support a single-payer system, but I support the bill as lesser reform because I think it's all that's realistically possible given the situation in Congress -- the need for 60 votes in the Senate -- and because I think it's better than nothing and possibly the thin end of the wedge leading to further and more substantial reform down the road.)

The point is, not everyone who opposes the bill is against reform -- critics on the left may align with critics on the right with respect to this bill, but their opposition to it is not at all similar in substance. And I think it's right that Obama's approval rating on health-care reform, feeding his (recently declining) approval rating generally, has been brought down by those who support reform but not the bill, that is, by those who want reform to be more ambitious.

Perhaps the president did what he had to do to get 60 votes in the Senate, which was to promote conciliation with those on the right of the Democratic caucus in the Senate, specifically with Nelson and Lieberman, along with Landrieu, Lincoln, and a few others. In so doing, he pushed away those on the left who wanted him to go further. Had he done that, though, he (and Reid) would likely have lost the votes needed to pass reform. Such are the compromises one must make while sausage is being made. As a result, his own numbers have suffered significantly, but, in the end, he'll get reform passed, and that will be historic, and perhaps, just perhaps, he will end up benefitting from an accomplishment that eluded his Democratic predecessors in the White House.

Otherwise, what is clear, it seems to me, is that health-care reform generally is far more popular than the "big news orgs," the Republican-influenced news media, are letting on. For when you delve into the details, when the specific goals of reform are separated out from the bill itself, when people actually think about what it's all about, as reflected in this poll, support for reform seems to be in the 55-65 percent range. Once they see that reform isn't socialism, or fascism, or whatever the Republican propagandists want to call it, and once they see how it benefits them personally, support, I suspect, will only go up. Like Social Security and Medicare, it will become part of the fabric of American life, opening up the prospect of additional reform including, quite likely, a robust public option.

Whether Obama's approval ratings will go is another matter, but I suspect they will, too -- that is, if his critics, those who support more ambitious reform, come to see, as they ought to, that this reform is much better than no reform, and that, while he could (and should) have done more, he did what he had to do.

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