Polling Oracle: What Americans Want On Health Care Reform

  • Share
  • Read Later

Josh Lyman: Numbers don’t lie.
Joey Lucas: They lie all the time. They lie when 72% of Americans say they’re tired of a sex scandal while all the while newspaper circulation goes through the roof for anyone featuring the story. If you polled 100 Donnas and asked them if they think we should go out, you’d get a high positive response, but the poll wouldn’t tell you it’s because she likes you, she knows it’s beginning to show and she needs to cover herself in misdirection.                                                                                –The West Wing, “The War At Home

The good people at Gallup tell us this morning that President Obama walks into his “Hollow Square” meeting with Republicans in a position of weakness. Forty-nine percent of Americans oppose passing a health care bill “similar to the ones proposed by President Obama and the Democrats in the House and the Senate.” By contrast, 42 percent want to see the bill passed. That is a seven point spread, without a majority in opposition. It’s not exactly the total rejection that Republican leaders have been pretending exist.

Chuck Grassley told the Des Moines Register that 70 percent of the country want members of Congress to “start over.” That seems a bit high. A Zogby poll at the end of January found just 57 percent wanted to start over. If the pollster explained that “start over” would mean, in effect, killing any chance of a bill this year, I am sure the number would drop lower. Why do I say that?

A recent Washington Post poll asked Americans if they wanted lawmakers to keep trying to pass health reform or give up on it. By a margin of 63 percent to 34 percent, respondents chose “keep trying.” There is also evidence that Americans are most upset with the messy process of making the bill, not the core components of the bill. Should insurance companies be required to sell coverage regardless of preexisting conditions? Eighty percent say yes. Should all Americans be required to have insurance, either from their employer or with the help of tax credits? Fifty-six percent say yes.

“The president insists on bringing back a bill that the American people have resoundingly rejected,” says House Republican Whip Eric Cantor, offering the main Republican argument. This is not so much a description–what is resounding about 49 percent?–as it is a hopeful prediction.

The White House case, which will be used in the coming weeks to twist the arms of House democrats, follows like this: Once the bill is passed, we can get beyond the ugly process and move on to selling all the popular deliverables. If you don’t pass the bill, then you will still be hammered in the midterm elections for your last vote in favor of the measure–but you won’t have anything to show for it.

There is another precedent which might shed some light on where the American people stand on health care. In September, 56 percent of Americans opposed sending more troops to Afghanistan, while just 35 percent supported sending more troops. After Obama announced that he would be sending more troops, the numbers shifted significantly, with 51 percent of Americans supporting the troop increase and 43 percent opposing it. There are big differences in the politics of war and the politics of health care, but the truth remains: Poll results now on health care are simply not predictive of polling results if a bill passes.


Forgottenlord reminds us of another West Wing gem, from the episode “Guns Not Butter“:

JOSH: No one who’s ever said they wanted bipartisanship has ever meant it. But the people are speaking. Because 68% think we give too much in foreign aid, and 59% think it should be cut.

WILL: You like that stat?

JOSH: I do.

WILL: Why?

JOSH: Because 9% think it’s too high, and shouldn’t be cut! 9% of respondents could not fully get their arms around the question. There should be another box you can check for, “I have utterly no idea what you’re talking about. Please, God, don’t ask for my input.”