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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Health Care and Public Opinion: Room For Improvement

To hear most of the talk the last couple weeks, you’d think the drive for health care reform–and with it, perhaps, the Obama administration’s overall agenda–is running into a buzzsaw of adverse public opinion.
But accurately assessing public opinon on health reform requires a more careful look at polling data, and the recognition that thanks to the vagaries of congressional procedure, the “Obama plan” hasn’t yet congealed into a specific plan with a clear and consistent rationale.
Andrew Baumann of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner has a very helpful item up at Huffington Post that covers much of this ground. Here are his conclusions (see his full post for examples of each point from specific polling data):
* The public knows the status quo is unsustainable and they want fundamental change now.
* Voters don’t trust the Republicans on the issue at all and trust Obama and the Democrats far more.
* Most important, when voters get more information about the likely elements of the final plan, they like it.
But all these fundamentals of public opinion are at present being obscured by the complex maneuverings in Congress:

[A]ll voters are hearing are stories about how much the plan will cost (on top of the stimulus, budget and bailouts), that it will be paid for with high taxes and that Democrats are bickering and divided. Meanwhile, the attacks on reform coming from Republicans and their allies are much simpler and easier for votes to digest, especially when Republicans can train their fire on unpopular specifics that will not likely be in the actual bill.
All of this suggests that when Democrats can finally coalesce around a single plan and Obama can go out and forcefully sell it, support is likely to increase significantly and Obama and supporters of reform will be able to get more traction in their arguments.

Similarly, Mark Blumenthal of Pollster.com has an article out that examines the polling data on health reform in detail, and notes there is a significant “gap” between support for the principles Obama and Democrats have advocated, and the “health reform plans” as they are perceived by the public. His conclusion:

The case against health care reform is getting through; the case in favor is not.

In other words, there’s a lot of room for improvement in support for what Obama and congressional Democratic leaders are trying to do, if, and only if, perception of their “plan” begin to converge with the principles of reform that a majority of Americans already embrace.

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