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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Needed: Energized HCR Educational Campaign

The new Washington Post poll conducted 3/22-26, affirms that there is still deep division about recently-enacted health care reform legislation. Current data indicates that 50 percent of respondents disapprove of the HCR act, while 46 percent said they “support the changes in the new law.”
But other polls have shown a healthy portion of those who say they disapprove of the reform package want a stronger public option and broader coverage. In this poll, 49 percent of respondents agreed that the Act provided “the right amount” or “not enough” government involvement in health care reform, while 49 percent said it provided “too much government involvement” in the health care system.
Other polls have shown that the Dems’ HCR package drew better approval numbers, once voters were told about its key provisions. Jon Cohen and Dan Balz note in their WaPo article, “Washington Post poll finds split on health-care law remains deep,”

Many key provisions of the new law have been highly popular in recent polling, particularly insurance changes such as extending coverage to young adults and eliminating exclusions based on preexisting conditions.

As TDS Co-Editor Ruy Teixeira reports of a Gallup poll taken just after the HCR bill was signed into law by President Obama,

In that poll, 49 percent said they thought it was a good thing that Congress passed a bill restructuring the nation’s health care system, compared to 40 percent who thought that was a bad thing. This plurality possibly reflects some individuals moving toward supporting the bill who previously had opposed it because it didn’t go far enough (about 10 to 15 percent of the public). This group, whose opposition to health care bills in Congress has stemmed from progressive rather than conservative priorities, is a plausible candidate for early increases in support generated by the new legislation…Much of the public is still uncertain about what exactly is in the bill and how it will affect them, but these early reactions are nevertheless encouraging. At minimum, they suggest that conservative predictions of a massive public uprising against health care reform were decidedly overwrought.

it remains unclear how opinions about the health reform Act will impact the November elections. But Balz and Cohen note,

At this point, Democrats hold a razor-slim edge (47 to 43 percent) on the “generic ballot,” the question about which party’s candidate people support in their local districts. Independents, who swung solidly for Democratic candidates in 2006 and 2008, now divide 42 percent for the GOP candidate and 39 percent for the Democrat.

To counter the GOP’s ‘repeal and replace” campaign, President Obama should not hesitate to vigorously use all available government communications resources to educate the public about the benefits of the HCR Act. The Administration should press the case for public service announcements on radio as well as television — insisting that education about the law is a bona fide public service, whereas ads opposing existing laws are exercises in partisanship. In addition, the white house and cabinet officers should do as many television interviews as possible to explain the Act. The president has begun a speaker’s tour designed to reach moderates and make the key elements of the Act understood to a critical mass of persiadable voters. The white house should also use the franking privilege to the max to send out one-page summaries of the benefits of the Act to every household.
The Republicans will howl and bellow foul, protesting that this is a partisan cause. But the Administration must respond that, no, this is not partisan. This legislation is no longer a proposal; it is the law of the land, established by an Act of the United States Congress and the federal government has a duty to educate the citizenry about the benefits of the legislation. Such an all-out educational campaign has legal justification, as well as being a moral imperative. To refrain from using all of the media resources at the white house’s disposal (and to fail to draw a prolonged whine from the G.O.P. about abusing the bully pulpit) would be political suicide. If the Administration and Dems fail to use every available tool to educate the public about the benefits of the Act, we deserve to get clobbered in November.
A federal government campaign of unprecedented scale to educate the public about the Act can help a lot. But it can’t do the whole job. The challenge for progressive bloggers is clear: To launch their own aggressive educational campaign, one that doesn’t just preach to the choir, but also reaches substantial portions of persuadable undecided voters. Email, social media, Youtubes, teach-ins (internet and otherwise), cellphones and other new media formats, along with television and radio, should be deployed as part of the nation-wide educational campaign. The emphasis should not be on debating the Act, but on informing people about it.
When we talk about ‘national security’ in America, we tend to speak in terms of defense policy and intelligence activities. But looking at the big picture, surely the health of the American people is a critical component of real national security, and making citizens aware of life-saving improvements in their health care system is compelling obligation.

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