An evaluation of the charms vs. the flaws in reform, from the public's perspective, is instructive. Several main elements remain broadly popular: Eighty percent of Americans support banning limits on pre-existing conditions. Seventy-two percent favor an employer mandate, requiring employers to offer health insurance to their full-time employees. And fewer but still 56 percent support a personal mandate requiring all Americans to have health insurance, either from work or another source, with assistance to help low-income people foot the bill.
But those attractions are balanced by unpopular aspects of reform. Sixty percent of Americans say the proposed changes to the health care system are too complicated; just 35 percent say it has to be this complex to accomplish the desired goals. And the division is about the same on costs: Fifty-nine percent say the plan as it stands simply is too expensive.
Another barrier to reform is ongoing satisfaction with existing insurers. Whatever their concerns about future costs, coverage and the health system overall, among Americans who have private health insurance, a substantial majority, 74 percent, say they trust their insurance company to handle their claims fairly. And people who trust their insurer are much more likely to oppose the reform plan as it now stands.
PROFILE and PARTY ID – The Democrats, then, have potential pushback against the GOP both in broad support for some sort of comprehensive health care reform, and in its related effort to tag the Republicans with the obstructionist label. The Democrats also have two other resources: A somewhat better general public profile, and a slight advantage in partisan affiliation. Both, though, have thinned considerably.
On the latter, 32 percent of Americans in this poll identify themselves as Democrats, 26 percent as Republicans, 39 percent as independents. While that produces a 6-point Democratic edge in affiliation, it compares with an 11-point Democratic margin on average in 2009. Moreover, asking independents which party they lean toward produces a close 49-45 percent Democratic-Republican division overall, compared with a 2009 average of 52-39 percent.
The edge in favorability – basic popularity – tells a similar story. Fifty percent of Americans see the Democratic Party favorably, 46 percent unfavorably. The Republican Party's ratings are weaker – 44 percent favorable, 52 percent unfavorable. But just since June, unfavorable ratings of the Democrats have gained 6 points – and favorable views of the GOP have gained 8.
The economy clearly hurts the in-party. Among Americans who see no sign of recovery yet, 55 percent describe themselves as generally anti-incumbent, 63 percent are disinclined to re-elect their own representative and, among those who are registered to vote, Republican candidates hold a 58-33 percent advantage in midterm election preferences.