Instead, as noted, the number identifying themselves as Democrats has slipped to 32 percent, compared with averages of 35 percent this year and 36 percent in 2008. The previous high for independents, now 43 percent, was 41 percent in July and in an early 1996 poll. The number of independents wasn't so high last month (34 percent), leaving the durability of these readings unclear. But it certainly doesn't make the task of partisan persuasion easier for either side.
The Democrats still do retain the upper hand; Americans trust them over the Republicans to handle the nation's main problems by a substantial 48 percent to 28 percent – although less broad than the 56-23 percent Democratic advantage in December, a 27-year record.
Testing Obama vs. the Republicans in Congress, the president leads in trust to handle health care reform by 48-36 percent. That's down, though, from 55-27 percent in June and, like many other basic health care measures, puts him under 50 percent. Obama also leads in trust to handle the deficit, and, as noted, the economy, but again by smaller margins than previously.
Also, specific to health care, the president and his party far outpoint the Republicans in being seen as making a "good-faith effort" to cooperate – 50 percent say Obama and the Democrats in Congress are trying to cooperate on reform, vs. 31 percent who say the same of the Republicans. And many more chiefly blame the Republicans for the negative tone of the debate, 31 percent, than the Democrats, 17 percent. But a plurality, 49 percent, blames both sides equally.
There's a challenge for Obama and the Democrats embedded in these views: Even as the Republicans are seen as less cooperative, 71 percent say the president and his party should try to change their reform proposals to win Republican support, rather than pushing ahead without it.
PUBLIC OPTION – On specifics in the health care plan, 55 percent support a so-called public option, with 42 percent opposed – slightly less opposition than in last month's 52-46 percent division, but still shy of the initial reaction in June, 62-33 percent support.
That June poll found that support for a public option drops dramatically if it would put many private insurers out of business, as critics claim. This poll shows a flip side: Support for a public option swells to 76 percent if it were available only to people who can't get coverage from a private insurer. The increase is most dramatic among Republicans, a 32-point gain to 59 percent support; and seniors, a 33-point gain to 68 percent. Something like this was suggested by Obama, who said in his address the option would be available only to people who "don't have" insurance; herein may be a path to compromise.