On Health Care Reform, the Roar of Partisanship

Feb 23, 2010 10:09am

Several polls lately have underscored broad agreement on some key elements of health care reform, prompting hopes for accord at the White House summit this week. The challenge: Other, equally central aspects of reform are seen negatively – with vast partisan gaps.

The Republican catcalls that accompanied release of President Obama’s revamped plan yesterday demonstrated the difficulty. And it’s far more than a Washington phenomenon: The reality is that even as Americans decry partisanship, they practice it. It’s a touchstone of political sentiment, grounded in fundamental differences on the size and role of government. And that makes health care reform a perfect storm of an issue for partisan division.

There is room for agreement on the kumbaya proposals, such as expanding coverage; 80 percent of Americans in our latest ABC/Post poll favor banning limits on pre-existing conditions, for instance, and 72 percent like the idea of an employer mandate, with bipartisan majorities in both cases. But there’s far less accord on other aspects of reform, such as its cost and complexity, its possible impact on care and – touching the very heart of partisanship – the nature of government involvement in the system.

The push and pull of these issues explains why for months reform hasn’t done better, or worse, than about an even split in public opinion. Another result is telling in two ways: On one hand 63 percent of Americans do favor some form of comprehensive health care reform – a plan, then, just not this one. On the other hand, that view’s held by 88 percent of Democrats, dropping sharply to 56 percent of independents and further to just 42 percent of Republicans.

If that 46-point Democratic-Republican gap doesn’t mark out the challenge at the upcoming bipartisan summit, there are others aplenty. Our data show a 36-point partisan gap on the idea of a personal mandate requiring all Americans to have health insurance, a 39-point gap on whether or not the current plan is too complicated and a whopping 50-point division on whether it’s too expensive: Eighty-two percent of Republicans say yes while just 32 percent of Democrats agree.

These, note, aren’t even the overtly political questions, such as approval of Obama’s handling of health care (55-point gap) and preference for the Obama over the Republicans in Congress to deal with it – the mother of all partisan gaps, 68 points.

There are issues that overcome partisanship; opposition to the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on election campaign spending by corporations is one recent example. Accord on the popular parts of health care reform is another. But as our data show, there are divisive bits aplenty, ones that cut to the substantive center of partisanship in this country.

It’s been suggested that Obama, by challenging the Republicans to come up with their own plan if they don’t like his, is trying to paint them into the corner as obstructionist. Our last poll, as we’ve reported, indicates some resonance there. While a substantial 44 percent say Obama’s doing “too little” to compromise with the Republican leaders in Congress on important issues, more, 58 percent, say the Republicans aren’t trying hard enough to get along.

The challenge is that while compromise is popular, principles are too. And on health care, they collide with a bang.
Check out the table below.

ABC/Post poll - 2/8/10

Do you approve or disapprove of the way Obama is handling health care? 

   Approve  DisapproveAll   43%       53Dem   72        24  Rep   17        82Ind   38        57

Who do you trust to do a better job handling health care reform - (Obama) or (the Republicans in Congress)?

      Obama   RepsAll    46%     41Dem    80      13Rep    12      77 Ind    43      40

Overall, given what you know about them, would you say you support or oppose the proposed changes to the health care system being developed by (Congress) and (the Obama administration)? 

    Support  OpposeAll   46%      49Dem   76       19Rep   17       79Ind   44       52

Do you think the proposed changes to the health care system are too complicated, or do you think the changes have to be this complex to accomplish what they’re trying to do?

         Too        Have to be     complicated   this complex   All      60%           35Dem      40            55Rep      79            18Ind      64            30

Do you think the proposed changes to the health care system are too expensive, or do you think the cost is about right for what they’re trying to do?

     Too expensive   Cost is about rightAll       59%                34Dem       32                 58Rep       82                 13Ind       65                 28

Do you think the government should or should not require businesses to offer private health insurance for their full-time employees?      Should   Should not All   72%       27 Dem   84        15   Rep   62        36 Ind   69        31

Do you think the government should or should not require all Americans to have health insurance, either from their employer or from another source, with tax credits or other aid to help low-income people pay for it?

All   56%       43Dem   76        22Rep   40        58Ind   51        47

Do you think the government should or should not require insurance companies to sell coverage to people regardless of pre-existing conditions?

All   80%      19Dem   89       10Rep   71       26Ind   78       20

Do you think lawmakers in Washington should (keep trying to pass) a comprehensive health care reform plan, or should (give up on) comprehensive health care reform?

    Keep trying    Give     to pass     up on itAll    63%        34Dem    88          8Rep    42         55Ind    56         39

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