Public doubt about health care reform has grown as the debate's raged this summer, with a rise in views it would do more harm than good, increasing opposition to a public option – and President Obama's rating on the issue at a new low in ABC News/Washington Post polls.
Fewer than half of Americans, 45 percent, support reform as it's been explained to date, while 50 percent are opposed – with many more "strongly" opposed than strongly in favor, 40 percent vs. 27 percent. Support's at just 36 percent among independents, the crucial political center.
Obama's approval rating for handling health care has fallen steadily from 57 percent in April to 46 percent today, led by a steep 17-point slide among independents. And expectations he can successfully accomplish reform have dropped further – from 68 percent shortly before he took office to 49 percent now.
Support for a public option, currently the most contentions element of reform, has fallen from 62 percent in June to 52 percent now; 46 percent are opposed, up 13 points. Like much of the debate, it's an intensely partisan issue, with support ranging from three-quarters of Democrats to half of independents and 24 percent of Republicans. The drop in support, though, has occurred equally among independents and Republicans alike.
In a similar trend, two months ago Americans by 58-39 percent said reform was "necessary to control costs and expand coverage" rather than believing it would "do more harm than good." Today that's narrowed to a close 51-46 percent split.
Health care reform overall, a political sand trap when last attempted in 1993, looks much the same in 2009. In a cautionary note for proponents of reform in marginal congressional districts, more people say they'd be inclined to vote against a candidate who supported reform than to vote for one. That may conjure memories of the Democratic rout of 1994.
LETDOWNS – It's not Obama's only letdown. While pessimism about the economy's future has eased, fewer than half give him credit for improving it. Americans disapprove of his handling of the deficit by a record 12-point margin, 53-41 percent. And after sharp gains following last fall's election, views of the country's direction have soured; 55 percent say it's seriously off on the wrong track.
One additional figure shows the extent to which the Obama star has faded: At his 100-day mark in April, 60 percent of Americans expressed confidence in him "to make the right decisions for the country's future." Today, just past 200 days into his presidency, it's 49 percent.
Yet, buoyed by vast loyalty in his own party, Obama retains a 57 percent job approval rating overall, creditable albeit slightly below the average for all first-term presidents at seven months since 1945, 63 percent. And while Republican opposition to health care reform has shown traction, the party itself has not: Just 21 percent express confidence in the Republicans in Congress to make the right decisions for the country, unchanged from April, lower than its level last winter and less than half Obama's standing on this same question. (Obama also far outpoints confidence in congressional Democrats, 35 percent.)