Rumors Of Health Care Reform's Entrenched Unpopularity Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

05/30/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The entrenched political wisdom on health care reform continues to consist of standard-issue declamations of its lack of popularity --- despite pockets of evidence that suggest the measure isn't quite as benighted, and its proponents not quite as unpopular, as many suggest.

Over at GQ's "The Wire" blog, Ana Marie Cox has analyzed the numbers at length, and finds the conventional wisdom wanting. Surprise, surprise!

To judge by the overwhelmingly negative tone that's marked most of the mainstream coverage of health care reform, a lot of my colleagues have been doing just that: Often letting Republican assertions about its unpopularity go unchallenged (as here) and sometimes by simply asserting it themselves. As Politico typically put it: "the Democratic plan remains starkly unpopular in multiple surveys." Don't let the links fool you: While the first poll indicates that the legislation is unpopular, it fails to prove it will have any effect on elections. And "multiple surveys" links to a post about one survey. From December.

Cox holds out the most recent ABC News/Washington Post survey as a prime example of "astonishingly disingenuous polling." Peep the trend lines:

Cox points out some stuff that really should be academic at this point:

Yeah, that thick purple line of "Strong Disapprove" is meaningful, but constant. Look at our somewhats: Every time "Somewhat Disapprove" takes a hit, "Somewhat Approve" gets a bump. Likewise, every time fewer people "Strongly Approve," more people "Somewhat Approve." That is, until after the damn thing passed and suddenly all the "somewhats" go down and "Strongly Approve" goes hockey stick. Maybe junior hockey stick.

So, hey, AMERICA IS DIVIDED ON THIS. I know that comes as a shock. And there are undoubtedly a significant number of dead-enders knit up in that "strongly disapprove" line. But as has been very rigorously documented, when pollsters are precise about the policy, support tends to go up. And the trends seen in the ABC/WaPo poll nonetheless indicate that the situation is otherwise very fluid. Thus, proponents of the bill have room to move.

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