What can defeat health care reform? Polls--or more specifically, Democratic politicians misreading them. Most of the data that crosses their desks these days resembles the numbers from the Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, which shows the public evenly divided on reform--43 percent in favor, 43 percent opposed. (And that was one of the more favorable ones!) Numbers likes these have members of congress worrying about their own election prospects and desperately hoping the issue goes away. And, of course, on the surface, this assessment is rational.
In my time in Washington, I've watched congressmen, senators and their advisors allow similarly stark polling data to shape their calculus on countless occasions. But the problem is polls can be amongst the worst basis for a politician to make a good decision about their self-interest. Often, they can suggest a course of action that is blinkered or worse, self-destructive. And that's exactly the case with health care reform.