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Tilting at Windmills

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August 19, 2009

PUBLIC OPTION LOSING PUBLIC SUPPORT?.... As recently as June, the public support for a public option as part of health care reform seemed very strong. An NYT poll found 72% of Americans -- including 50% of Republicans -- favoring such a plan. An NBC/WSJ poll found 76% of Americans believing that it's important to "give people a choice of both a public plan administered by the federal government and a private plan for their health insurance."

Over the last two months, right-wing attacks have changed the landscape considerably. A new NBC poll shows support for a public option falling behind opposition for the first time.

In the poll, 43 percent say they favor a public option, versus 47 percent who oppose it. That's a shift from last month's NBC/Journal poll, when 46 percent said they backed it and 44 percent were opposed.

There is, however, a catch -- NBC changed the wording of the question. Respondents were asked, "Would you favor or oppose creating a public health care plan administered by the federal government that would compete directly with private health insurance companies?" Opponents outnumbered supporters.

In June, the same poll asked, "In any health care proposal, how important do you feel it is to give people a choice of both a public plan administered by the federal government and a private plan for their health insurance -- extremely important, quite important, not that important, or not at all important?" In this case, 76% thought it was important to give people a choice.

The wording, then, makes all the difference. A Quinnipiac poll from two weeks ago asked, "Do you support or oppose giving people the option of being covered by a government health insurance plan that would compete with private plans?" A 62% majority supported the public option. An NYT poll from late July asked, "Would you favor or oppose the government offering everyone a government administered health insurance plan -- something like the Medicare coverage that people 65 and older get -- that would compete with private health insurance plans?" A 66% majority approved.

It's probably safe to assume the conservative attacks on reform have had an effect, and support for a public option has fallen in recent months. But I suspect we'll hear a lot of talk today about the NBC poll, with most of the commentary concluding that the public has soured on the idea. It's not quite that simple.

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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What does that all mean?

People don't really know what they're for, they have a better grasp of what they're against (even if it's for totally bogus reasons), and that after a bill passes WITH a public option that the vast majority are predisposed to approve of it. After all, they were for it before they were against it-- they could easily be for it again.

It also means that the dems better take this whole process as a major lesson in clear, orchestrated messaging-- they're still really pretty bad at it.

Posted by: zoe kentucky on August 19, 2009 at 8:46 AM | PERMALINK

So this proves that the rabid right-wing did did change the landscape. They got NBC to change its wording.

By the way, maybe it's just my training as a scientist, but what is with all the changes pollsters make from poll to poll? Changing the wording makes it virtually impossible to be sure if opinion is actually changing. Why don't they pick a wording and stick with it, at least for several polls in a row?

(Cynical me responds: Because consistent results are boring but dramatic changes in results drive ratings...)

Posted by: Bernard HP Gilroy on August 19, 2009 at 8:51 AM | PERMALINK

It will be important to ensure that a public option is accessible to all of us who want to stop giving money the insurance corporations only to be ripped off when we actually need health care.

It would be very easy for Congress to vote for a public option, but then impose so many restrictions that only a few people are eligible to sign up.


Posted by: SteveT on August 19, 2009 at 8:51 AM | PERMALINK

The American people are waking up. It's not the questions that are important, it's the answers.

Posted by: Al on August 19, 2009 at 8:56 AM | PERMALINK

It's not quite that simple.

It is that simple to the simple minds who are easily swayed by paranoia and obfuscation. Those minds will see these new numbers, trumpeted by those for whom the status quo is paramount, which may well lead to a majority against the public option no matter how the query is worded in the future. And, unfortunately, that's what matters.

Posted by: terraformer on August 19, 2009 at 8:56 AM | PERMALINK

The American "people" you refer to Al, woke up months ago during the "tea parties". I'm afraid your favorite "news" channel had a lot to do with both "awakenings".

Posted by: about time on August 19, 2009 at 9:01 AM | PERMALINK

They're not getting the message out. The whole mess this weekend was a message to give cover to the Blue Dogs. The Obama Adm needs to stop sending under the wire messages and start selling this plan to the American people. They need to tell everyone to stay on message and push past the noise of the Republican Wurlitzer Machine.

It's a big enough task trying to get a message out over the howl of republican lies. If they fail and the republican dominate this debate Healthcare is doomed. Choose one message, make it simple, and stick to it. Its salesmanship not education!

Posted by: rawls on August 19, 2009 at 9:04 AM | PERMALINK

What's with all the polling, anyway?

The American Moron is ill informed and under educated, and frequently doesn't understand the question.

So asking The People what they think is an exercise in futility.

And, who cares what the Unwashed Masses "think"? Our Congressmen and Senators are sent to Washington to think for us- because they are supposedly smarter than us, and will do what is 'right' for the American people.

-How's that been working out, so far? ? ?

Posted by: DAY on August 19, 2009 at 9:07 AM | PERMALINK

I have a real simple message for the Democrats. No public option, no vote from me until there is one.

It'll be painful. I've never missed any election since I became of legal voting age 41 years ago. And since I grew up in Hudson County, NJ I have NEVER voted for anyone other than a Democrat.

But they're about to push me too far.

Posted by: Steve on August 19, 2009 at 9:07 AM | PERMALINK

It would be very easy for Congress to vote for a public option, but then impose so many restrictions that only a few people are eligible to sign up.

I find this sentiment to be quite funny, if only because I argue with so many conservatives who INSIST that Obama is a Marxist who will set-up a really crappy public plan that no one will want, but then impose so many restrictions on private plans that everyone is forced into the government's; thus allowing them to destroy private insurers and impose more control over our lives. And in their minds, that's the only reason Obama is doing this to us, and he doesn't really care about healthcare at all. Nothing can dissuade them from this belief.

And so I find it interesting to hear someone suggest from the other side that we might purposefully try to restrict access to it. People fear what they want to fear. That's not to say that either of these options are inherently impossible. And hey, perhaps BOTH sides are right and Obama will put restrictions on BOTH type of plans, as a way of denying EVERYONE coverage. And then we'd all get sick and die so his Kenyan brothers can take over the country and impose Sharia Law on the survivors.

Posted by: Doctor Biobrain on August 19, 2009 at 9:15 AM | PERMALINK

You can't really blame pollsters alone. Reform proponents aren't exactly offering a clear explanation of what a public option would look like. Listening to Obama, Pelosi, Sebelius etc. one senses many caveats, fallbacks, obstacles and potential end-runs lurking in the background.

A simple proposal: public insurance covering everyone for illness and injury; private insurance for everything else.

Posted by: henry lewis on August 19, 2009 at 9:16 AM | PERMALINK

It's probably safe to assume the conservative attacks on reform have had an effect, and support for a public option has fallen in recent months.

This is exactly the same thing that happened with the stimulus. An at-first popular idea is turned into a fucking albatross by passage (with no repug support) by an administration committed to bipartisanship. This fetish -- letting ideas and proposals twist in the wind for months under the guise of "listening to all sides" -- with no effective messaging whatsoever has absolutely destructive consequences.

All of this "he's playing 10 dimensional chess" bullshit needs to stop. Along with treating the likes of Chuck Grassley as "my friend on Capitol Hill." It is lunacy that winds up looking like complete incompetence and weakness.

It will destroy both BHO's brand and that of progressives if it doesn't stop.

Posted by: Econobuzz on August 19, 2009 at 9:25 AM | PERMALINK

This is all well and good, but it seems to me that there is still considerable opposition to the public option among the Blue Dogs that is going to have to be quelled somehow.

My fear is that the Blue Dogs are going to be so intransigent on this that any bill that finally makes it to the president's desk is going to be so watered down as to be all but worthless.

Posted by: Doctor Whom on August 19, 2009 at 9:26 AM | PERMALINK

How about Medicare for everyone?

Posted by: Jim B on August 19, 2009 at 9:29 AM | PERMALINK

Chuck Todd mentioned the wording issue last night on Hardball, saying they removed the term "choice" because republicans complained about the framing. When Matthews pointed out that liberals would now be angry about the framing, Todd shrugged it off and said something to the effect of, "Somebody's always going to be upset."

Gotta love that liberal media!

Posted by: CT on August 19, 2009 at 9:35 AM | PERMALINK

No Public Option?

Lies, Ignorance, & Paranoia 1
Rational,intelligent debate 0

Posted by: Bartender on August 19, 2009 at 9:41 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, bullshit. By themselves, the poll results tell us clearly that the phrasing of the question has a large effect on the response to the poll-a sure sign that the average person actually knows very little about the plans being debated. What have we seen in the past several weeks but oodles of ignorance (some of it willful) on display?

Posted by: Ron Mexico on August 19, 2009 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

A certain shallow segment of the populace will sour on anything that is "controversial", even if the controversy is totally fabricated and meaningless.

Posted by: bob h on August 19, 2009 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

Dr. Biobrain @ 9:15:

Cute answer, but I think those on the left who have watched Obama and his pitbull cave to the Bluedogs and cave to the GOP and put forward timid proposals that barely tinker at the margins of the major issues have a lot greater chance of having their fears of a wimpy useless HCR realized than those who think BHO is a Kenyan Marxist who wants to enslave us all.

Posted by: howie on August 19, 2009 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

The idea that a poll sponsored by the WSJ (or even NBC) would have the objective of finding true opinions would be pretty naive. Repeated polls allow pollsters to change the wording to get the results they want. Much of poll trends and volatility are probably due to this deliberate manipulation.

Posted by: skeptonomist on August 19, 2009 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

What does it all mean? It means that, once again, the GOP lie machine -- think Iraq War etc. -- succeeded in throwing out so much intellectual garbage (that's a nice way of saying bull$hit)that the dim-bulbed American people became confused and willing to vote against their own best interests. Gotta give Repubs credit: They know how to deploy propaganda effectively...keep hammering home the lies until people think it is the truth. Repubs stay on their talking points, while Obama is changing approaches (again) i.e. now he is going to talk up the "moral" need for health care...first, though, he has to argue with himself over the public option, for or against?

Posted by: Ralph Kramden on August 19, 2009 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

Cute answer, but I think those on the left who have watched Obama and his pitbull cave to the Bluedogs and cave to the GOP and put forward timid proposals that barely tinker at the margins of the major issues...

Howie - But this is exactly what we saw with the stimulus. We started with a good proposal, the Republicans howled about everything they saw, we pulled out a few good parts (unfortunately), pulled out the most contentious ones that could have caused us real political problems (fortunately), and the Republicans continued howling until they outright admitted that nothing would appease them. Then we added a few good parts back into the bill and ended up with something I found reasonably acceptable. Far from perfect, but definitely better than what Republicans wanted.

And best of all, the public realized how Republicans had been partisan idiots and sided with us to release a bill that was so popular that even Republicans who outright opposed it were trying to take credit for it. While the stimulus should have been better, it was a good balance between policy and politics, giving us a respectable win in both areas. And that's exactly what I expected from Obama all along.

And it looks like (based on the previous post) that Obama is doing the same thing now. We let the Republicans howl about everything to the point that they finally outright admitted that they're really just trying to sink the bill, and now we start putting the stuff back in that we really liked. And now that we've given them a chance to let us know where their strongest attacks will be, we can create a good bill with few of the pitfalls that would allow them to make attacks which could have political salience. Sure, they'll attack it, but the attacks won't stick. Just like what happened with the stimulus bill. And by next year, more than a few of these a-holes will be proudly telling their constituents how they helped make healthcare in America better.

Will it be perfect? I doubt it. But a perfect bill wasn't a realistic option. The question is whether it will be good enough. I think it will be. And the more people like the public option, the more it will be improved over the years. As a reminder, Republicans HATE Medicare but it's so popular that the only change they could make to it was to add a drug benefit. I think this plan will be the same way. Once people get a taste of how good real insurance is, they'll just want it to be better.

Posted by: Doctor Biobrain on August 19, 2009 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

Here's a prediction----At the present rate of increases in the cost of health insurance even the staunchest opponents of reform will in 5 years be the loudest bitchers about the system if something substantial is done to change it.

Posted by: Gandalf on August 19, 2009 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

And the more people like the public option, the more it will be improved over the years.

First we have to get it passed, Pollyanna.

Posted by: shortstop on August 19, 2009 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

First we have to get it passed, Pollyanna.

Really? I had no idea it worked like that. Thanks for the correction. I was seriously proposing that we could some day improve on a system that didn't exist.

I swear, debating conservatives is MUCH more fun than ever writing anything here. With conservatives, I know where they're coming from and see the attacks coming. Here, I get nailed from all sides and for things I never wrote and don't believe, and finally just stop writing anything serious at all.

In this case, I forget to write a "if it passes" disclaimer to my absurdly long comment and get called on it, while I got nailed yesterday for being an Obamabot with no credibility. I guess it really just doesn't pay to be an optimist when everyone else wants to be a pessimist.

Posted by: Doctor Biobrain on August 19, 2009 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

I swear, debating conservatives is MUCH more fun than ever writing anything here.

Do what you gotta do, Pol. Very important to have sufficient fun in our lives.

Posted by: shortstop on August 19, 2009 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

NO CO-OP'S! A Little History Lesson

Young People. America needs your help.

More than two thirds of the American people want a single payer health care system. And if they cant have a single payer system 76% of all Americans want a strong government-run public option on day one (85% of democrats, 71% of independents, and 60% republicans). Basically everyone.

Our last great economic catastrophe was called the Great Depression. Then as now it was caused by a reckless, and corrupt Republican administration and republican congress. FDR a Democrat, was then elected to save the nation and the American people from the unbridled GREED and profiteering, of the unregulated predatory self-interest of the banking industry and Wallstreet. Just like now.

FDR proposed a Government-run health insurance plan to go with Social Security. To assure all Americans high quality, easily accessible, affordable, National Healthcare security. Regardless of where you lived, worked, or your ability to pay. But the AMA riled against it. Using all manor of scare tactics, like Calling it SOCIALIZED MEDICINE!! :-0

So FDR established thousands of co-op's around the country in rural America. And all of them failed. The biggest of these co-op organizations would become the grandfather of the predatory monster that all of you know today as the DISGRACEFUL GREED DRIVEN PRIVATE FOR PROFIT health insurance industry. And the DISGRACEFUL GREED DRIVEN PRIVATE FOR PROFIT healthcare industry.

This former co-op would grow so powerful that it would corrupt every aspect of healthcare delivery in America. Even corrupting the Government of the United States.

This former co-op's name is BLUE CROSS/BLUE SHIELD.

Do you see now why even the suggestion of co-op's is ridiculous. It makes me so ANGRY! Co-op's are not a substitute for a government-run public option.

They are trying to pull the wool over our eye's again. Senator Conrad, if you don't have the votes now, GET THEM! Or turn them over to us. WE WILL! DEAL WITH THEM. Why do you think we gave your party Control of the House, Control of the Senate, Control of the Whitehouse. The only option on the table that has any chance of fixing our healthcare crisis is a STRONG GOVERNMENT-RUN PUBLIC OPTION.

An insurance mandate and subsidies without a strong government-run public option choice available on day one would be worse than the healthcare catastrophe we have now. The insurance, and healthcare industry have been very successful at exploiting the good hearts of the American people. But Congress and the president must not let that happen this time. House Progressives and members of the Tri-caucus must continue to hold firm on their demand for a strong Government-run public option.

A healthcare reform bill with mandates and subsidies but without a STRONG government-run public option choice on day one, would be much worse than NO healthcare reform at all. So you must be strong and KILL IT! if you have too. And let the chips fall where they may. You can do insurance reform without mandates, subsidies, or taxpayer expense.

Actually, no tax payer funds should be use to subsidize any private for profit insurance plans. Tax payer funds should only be used to subsidize the public plans. Healthcare reform should be 100% for the American people. Not another taxpayer bailout of the private for profit insurance industry, disguised as healthcare reform for the people.

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