August has been bad for Barack Obama. No doubt about it. He has been stuck repeating the same talking points for a health plan that he can’t get through Congress–largely because of dissent within his own party–while the media busies itself alternately covering the virulent, if contained, backlash to his proposal, and trying to cut through all the false claims about what health reform could mean. The guy who wanted to change the ways of Washington has found himself pinned down by the ways of Washington. But does any of it matter?
Not so much, so far. This week’s new WSJ-NBC (pdf) poll shows very little movement from July to August on the issue of health reform.
Support for the broad sweep of what Obama has proposed went from 56 to 53 percent, within the margin of error. Support for a public health care plan also dropped only three points, from 46 to 43 percent. The percentage of people who said the Obama plan would result in better quality care rose, from 21 to 24 percent, while the percent saying it would get worse rose less, from 39 to 40 percent. Obama’s own approval rating on health care was unchanged. The percentage of Americans saying reform would “lower costs and provide health care for all Americans” rose slightly from July, while the percentage saying it would “limit access to doctors and medical treatment options” declined slightly.
Perhaps most damning facts for the town hall barkers were these: 85 percent of Americans said they had seen, read or heard reports about protests at the town hall meetings. Of that group, 16 percent said the disruptions made them more favorable to the Obama plan, 19 percent said less favorable and 62 percent said all the hubbub “made no difference.”
Now a big part of interpreting poll results is expectations. Via Twitter, Kevin Madden, a Republican consultant who worked for Mitt Romney, argues that the lack of poll movement is bad news for the president as it comes on the heals of a “huge public push.” And the good people at Hot Air do their best to highlight other negative results from the poll. But the bottom line, on balance, is a wash. It can be read to either say that Obama and his foes are battling to a stalemate, or that Americans really don’t care much what happens in August. I would guess the latter. As Andrew Card, the former White House chief of staff, once explained in another context, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.”
What matters is what happens in September and through the fall. Will Obama get Republican support? (On this point, the right wing backlash, especially to the degree it impacts people like Sen. Chuck Grassley, matters a great deal.) Will he be able to pass meaningful reforms? (Including ones that liberals cheer, and industry lobbyists decry.) Will be be able to pass anything? By the time we learn the answers to these questions, the August excitement is likely to seem little more than a distant dream.