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Don't Believe the Hype: Support for Health Care Reform is Still Fundamentally Strong

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In the last two days several new public polls have been released showing some softening of support for the health care reform being pushed by President Obama and Democrats in Congress. To be clear, these results are disappointing. Support for "Obama's plan" is, indeed, down, and voters are worried that reform, while good for the nation overall, could have a negative impact on them and their families.

However, a closer reading of these surveys shows that the underlying dynamics of the debate have not changed and still show strong support for reform; the prospects of President Obama and his allies winning long-term support for their efforts are still very good. 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 they hear what's likely to be in the final plan, they favor it.

More specifically:

The public knows the status quo is unsustainable and they want fundamental change now.

  • In the new CBS/New York Times survey 66 percent worry that they will lose their coverage, 75 percent worry that their health care costs will go up and 80 percent worry that more Americans will become uninsured if we don't pass reform.
  • In the same survey, 82 percent say that our health care system needs fundamental changes (33 percent say the system needs to be completely rebuilt and 49 percent say it needs fundamental changes)
  • In the new Time magazine survey 69 percent say it is important (with 46 percent saying very important) to pass major health care reform "in the next few months" versus just 28 percent who say it its not.

Voters don't trust the Republicans on the issue at all and trust Obama and the Democrats far more.

  • By more than 2-to-1 (55 to 26 percent) respondents in the CBS/New York Times survey say Obama has better ideas about how to change health care than Republicans.
  • The new bipartisan GWU Battleground survey showed President Obama and Democrats in general with identical 21-point leads over Republicans on who would better handle health care reform.

Most important, when voters get more information about the likely elements of the final plan, they like it.

  • In the new NBC/Wall Street Journal survey, when people are read a description of the plan that includes higher taxes on wealthier Americans, they favor it by a 56 to 38 percent margin. This level of support is steady from June and April.
  • In both the Time Magazine survey and the new Pew Research Center survey, strong majorities (in some cases up to 80 percent) support elements likely to be in the final plan such as an employer and individual mandate, the public option, insurance reform and an income surtax on wealthy Americans.
  • In a survey that Greenberg Quinlan Rosner conducted for NPR in conjunction with the Republican firm Public Opinion Strategies, a Democratic message in favor of reform beat a Republican message (written by POS), by a 51 to 42 percent margin.

The major difficulty for progressives, to this point, has been that it is hard to make the strongest positive case for reform because a unified bill has not emerged from Congress. Instead, all 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.

Andrew Baumann specializes in U.S. political issues with a particular focus on Greenberg Quinlan Rosner's work with Democracy Corps - a non-profit organization that provides opinion research and strategic advice to progressive organizations.

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