It’s been a simple matter for just about anyone to mischaracterize public opinion on the health care reform measure the president’s about to sign. Polling results on it have depended to a large extent on what’s asked – a reasonable outcome given conflicted views on the subject.
As we’ve reported, some elements are highly popular (e.g., doing away with limits on pre-existing conditions); others engender considerable doubts (e.g. the costs and the level of government involvement). That's a prescription for mixed emotions.
The plan has done least well, 59 percent opposed, in a CNN result attributing it to the unpopular House and Senate, leaving out any mention of the Obama administration. Notable in this poll is that the opposition includes 13 percent who say it’s “not liberal enough”; and that, in other questions, the public prefers President Obama over the Republicans in Congress to handle health care, by 51-39 percent; and more narrowly favors the Democrats in Congress over the Republicans on the issue, 45-39 percent.
We saw more opposition than support in a CBS question, but an even division in a Kaiser Family Foundation poll last week. In an NBC/WSJ poll, the public by a 12-point margin called the plan a bad idea rather than a good one (48 to 36 percent); but again, in the same poll, Americans divided evenly on whether it was better to pass the bill and then make changes, or not to pass it.
An additional point is the very stable nature of these views. While individual measures differ in their results, each, generally, has been little changed over time. Opposition, as CNN measures it, was essentially the same in January as it is now (57 percent then vs. today's 59 percent). The even division, as Kaiser measures it, has been steady for months, as it has in our own polling.
Each side likes to lay claim to the high ground in public opinion, and may be able to pull out individual data points supporting its case. Clearly, as has been covered in detail, views on the plan are highly partisan. Nonetheless in sum, evaluating the data below and the many other results we’ve seen over the past months, it seems best to describe public attitudes on health care reform as divided.
That means there’s opportunity ahead for each side to make its case – and while the future's unknown, we do have one recent experience to consider: In our polling in April 2006, just 41 percent of adults overall, and 50 percent of seniors, supported the expansion of prescription drug coverage in Medicare that had just passed the Congress. By 2008, in an AARP poll of seniors who were enrolled in the program, 67 percent described themselves as very or extremely satisfied with it.
For Against (or as described)CNN 3/21 39% 59 House/Senate “final legsn… major changes”(against inc. 13% “not liberal enough”) CNN 3/21 51 39 Trust to handle – Obama/Reps CNN 3/21 45 39 Trust to handle – Dems/Reps CBS 3/21 37 48 “the current health care reform bill” Fox 3/17 35 55 “legsn being considered right now” Kaiser 3/15 46 42 “HC props being discussed in Congress” NBC/WSJ 3/14 36 48“Barack Obama’s HC plan… good/bad idea” NBC/WSJ 3/14 46 45Pass it, make changes/don’t pass it Pew 3/14 38 48 “HC bills being discussed in Congress” AP 3/10 41 43 “HC reform plans being discussed in Cong." Gallup 3/7 45 48 “Advise your rep. to vote for or against” ABC/Post 2/8 46 49 HC changes “being developed by Cong./admin.”