Obama still leads the Republicans in Congress to handle several top issues of the day, albeit in most cases by attenuated margins. Those include a 12-point advantage, 48-36 percent, in trust to handle the economy; 12 points on the war in Afghanistan; 10 points on energy policy; and a slight 7 points on health care.
The changes are telling. On one hand Obama has undermined the Republicans' competitiveness in trust to handle the war in Afghanistan; they've lost 6 points. But on health care it's a different story: His lead in trust to handle reform has dwindled from 28 points in June to 20 points in July and 13 points last month en route to today's single-digit edge.
Meanwhile Obama's advantage over the Republicans in trust to handle the economy, while stable since September, is down from 23 or 24 points this summer and a remarkable 37 points at his peak approval last spring.
There's another encouraging note for the opposition: Twenty-six percent of Americans in this survey identify themselves as Republicans, compared with just 20 or 21 percent in the three previous ABC/Post polls from September to November. It's the most since October 2008.
Support for the health care reform package never has been robust, ranging from 44 to 48 percent in ABC/Post polls since August, at low ebb now; and opposition's steadily been stronger in intensity. But the 7-point margin for opposition, 51-44 percent, is its most to date – indeed statistically significant for the first time – and the differential in intensity of sentiment has grown since September.
At root are skeptical views of the impact of reform on cost and care alike. Americans by 20-point margins think the changes that have been proposed would do more to raise their own costs, and the costs of the system overall, than simply leaving things as they are. By a closer margin, but still 13 points, more also think the quality of their care would be better in the current system than in one changed as proposed.
There are other concerns. Americans by 2-1, 45 percent to 22 percent, think reform would weaken rather than strengthen the popular Medicare system; seniors in particular think so, by 57 percent vs. 12 percent. And a steady two-thirds of Americans think the changes would increase the federal budget deficit. Some say that's worth it – but their numbers have thinned.
As in the past, some elements of reform are more popular, others less so. On the positive side in this poll is the idea of extending Medicare to cover people 55 and older who don't have other insurance; 63 percent are in favor, a sizable majority albeit down from 75 percent in 2006. The idea is least popular among seniors, with just 42 percent support. (Public opinion doesn't always carry the day, of course; expanded Medicare was set back this week by opposition from Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Ben Nelson, D-Neb.)
There's a much sharper split on a public option for people who are uninsured vs. a program, as proposed in the Senate, in which the federal government would negotiate with private insurers for this coverage. Thirty-six percent prefer the former; 30 percent, the latter; and an additional 30 percent say the current system simply should be left as it is. No consensus there.
Views on reform are highly partisan; 78 percent of Republicans are opposed, 75 percent of Democrats in favor. Independents make the difference: just 35 percent now support the reform package, down 10 points from last month.