Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 25, 2009

A HARD PERCEPTION TO BREAK, REDUX.... The latest New York Times/CBS News poll offers quite a bit of discouraging news for Republicans hoping to defeat health care reform and undermine the Obama presidency. There's just one catch.

President Obama's approval rating remains quite strong at 56%, and his handling of health care has improved seven points since August. Nearly two-thirds of the country (65%) would like to see a public option as part of health care reform, which is up five points over the last month.

While the numbers for Democrats aren't as strong as they were, Republicans haven't been able to capitalize at all. For example, most respondents maintain a favorable impression of Democrats (47% favorable, 41% unfavorable), while the GOP fares far worse (30% favorable, 57% unfavorable). Asked who can be trusted to make the right decisions, President Obama's lead over congressional Republicans is nearly two to one (53% to 27%).

More than three out of four believe Republicans have not explained what they would do to improve the system, and while a clear majority believes President Obama has tried to work with the GOP, a clear majority believes the GOP has not done the same with the White House. What's more, 64% believe Republicans are fighting against health care reform for purely political reasons, not because of principle.

So, what's the catch? Americans don't like and don't trust the GOP, but they want to see Democrats work with them anyway.

The poll finds that an overwhelming majority of 64% think Republicans are opposing Obama's health care plans mostly for political reasons. But it also finds that an equally large number, 65%, say Democrats shouldn't pass a bill without Republicans -- even if they think it's right for the country -- and should instead compromise to win over some GOPers.

This shows, I think, that Democrats have convinced the public that the GOP wants Obama and Dems to fail at all costs. But they've failed to make the case to the public that GOP obstructionism may leave them no choice but to go it alone in order to realize reform.

This is the third major national poll to find the same result on this in the last couple of weeks.

It continues to put the majority in an awkward situation. Americans don't trust GOP lawmakers on the issue, and don't think Republicans have been acting in good faith, but the public can't quite shake the impression that good bills are "bipartisan" bills, and that legislative consensus may actually be more important than legislative quality.

My only advice to the governing majority? Ignore this. Americans are, for whatever reasons, predisposed to support bipartisan lawmaking. But this is an impossible task -- Republicans don't support reform and aren't willing to make concessions. If Dems make the bill worse, on purpose, just to pick up a few GOP votes, it's likely voters will be far less satisfied with reform when it's implemented.

Pass a good bill and let the policy speak for itself.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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Pass a good bill and let the policy speak for itself.

Next fall, the Dems will want to say to the voters, "Look what WE've done FOR you," and the GOP will want to say, "Look what THEY've done TO you."

That will be the 2010 midterms in a nutshell. So the Dems had better make sure they pass a bill that gives them the better end of that argument.

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on September 25, 2009 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

These polls are tough; in general, I don't particularly like the Democrats, but I despise the Republicans. The bipartisan thing just reflects how many "moderate" voters haven't quite accepted how far to the right the Republicans have veered.

Posted by: qwerty on September 25, 2009 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

When the Broders of the world make it their life's pledge to make bipartisanship the end all and be all the fact that such a view is reflected back in polling is to be expected. Issue polls tend to be crap on most anything.

Posted by: Rob on September 25, 2009 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

Yes, yes, by all means, let's ask the American People what THEY think. And then govern accordingly.

Because pleasing a bunch of ill informed, undereducated, Epsilon Minus in the IQ department citizens is the function of an elected government. . .

Posted by: DAY on September 25, 2009 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

There must be some ideas in the HRC bill draft that were GOP inspired. Hard to believe every one of them is bad and will be ejected. Solution is to simply point out those features in the bill that had GOP roots and give credit where credit is due (wouldn't want to deny any Rethug a wet liberal kiss). Then explain that, unfortunately, Rethugs are shy and don't want to be associated with this bipartisan product publicly. But thank them for their tireless efforts and contributions anyway. It should make them angry enough to bust a vein insisting they hate HCR and everything associated with it. Ooooops.

Posted by: Chopin on September 25, 2009 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

I don't think this is too surprising, considering the bipartisanship fetish of nearly all of our political news sources. In addition, a lot of people have a commonsense assumption that left to their own devices, either side will go "too far" -- we're just not very well equipped for a debate where the two sides are "not far enough" and "in the wrong direction entirely."

But year, any politician who pays attention to "bipartisanship" questions is a sucker -- no matter what they say now, no one will care whether it was bipartisan or not, only if they like the result (and Republicans are going to campaign against it as a "Democrat takeover" in 2010 whether it gets Republican votes or not.)

Posted by: Redshift on September 25, 2009 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

david broder and the polls all merely reiterate what
marijuana and the firesign theatre taught us long ago...

we are all bozos on this bus...

Posted by: neill on September 25, 2009 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

The question still is worded so there may be some confusion about whether Democrats CAN pass a bill without Republican support. Here is the actual question:

66. Looking ahead, which comes closer to your view? 1. The Democrats won a majority in Congress and should try to pass a health care reform bill that they think is right for the country, even if many Republicans don't support it. OR 2. The Democrats should try to pass a health care reform bill that receives support from Republicans in Congress, even if it means compromising on some provisions of the bill.

The key words there are "try to pass a health care reform bill". If some people don't think that is possible, they may want Democrats to try and work with Republicans. Hence they give the second answer, even though they would prefer a Democratic bill.

Posted by: DR on September 25, 2009 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

Reconciliation, reconciliation, reconciliation: reconciliation, reconciliation.

Posted by: chooks on September 25, 2009 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe this is a case of the public reflecting the media's fetish for "bipartisan" solutions, or a distrust of the Democrats to get things right. But maybe this also reflects a practical apprehension that if health care reform passes on a party line, the GOP will then try to sabotage and obstruct the implementation of whatever legislation gets passed - resulting in a complete mess. Take, for example, Governor Perry's threats to try to nullify any federal reforms by preventing them from taking effect in Texas.

The problem with that is that the sabotage and obstruction has already begun. And it will probably go on even if a few Republicans end up voting for the legislation.

Posted by: Bokonon on September 25, 2009 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK
66. Looking ahead, which comes closer to your view? 1. The Democrats won a majority in Congress and should try to pass a health care reform bill that they think is right for the country, even if many Republicans don't support it. OR 2. The Democrats should try to pass a health care reform bill that receives support from Republicans in Congress, even if it means compromising on some provisions of the bill.

I draw a different conclusion from the response to this question. I think people are imagining a trade-off: the Republicans stop opposing the proposals purely for politics and come to the table in good faith; then Democrats work with them to forge a bipartisan compromise.

Not many people are going to respond to the question as phrased above by saying, "Yeah, Democrats won, so they're in ur base, killing ur d00dz." People don't like intransigent Republican and they _also_ don't like (the illusory idea of) uncompromising Democrats. The trouble is, of course, that the Republicans _won't_ come to the table in good faith.

I feel like the way to deal with that is to point out Republican policy notions that have already been included in the bill, and to highlight how much of an effort has been made to involve Republicans, and how little they have responded. Which I believe is exactly what the Democrats have been setting up all summer and fall. Play the "Democrats are sober adults, Republicans are a bunch of tantrum-throwing crybabies" card.

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on September 25, 2009 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

We must be careful or we get the worst of all possible worlds..........A bad bill (mandates without a public option), watered down to try to attract Repub votes, that makes things worse instead of better for many people, that we Dems completely own because no Repubs will vote for it anyway.

Posted by: sceptic on September 25, 2009 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

FlipYrWhig has it right; the question shapes the response. The question imagines an alternate reality/bizarro world in which Republicans are willing to compromise and Democrats aren't. Since Repubs have not even suggested a list of changes that they want, and would make them vote for a bill, we are now at one remove from even being able to assess their willingness to compromise. Right now they are not even offering to compromise...they are offering the opposite.

Posted by: Ron Mexico on September 25, 2009 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

I'm with DR. The poll does *not* ask whether a good bill ought to be gutted to please a small faction of Republicans. It asks whether a partisan Democratic bill should be subject to an un-specified compromise in order to achieve broad consensus. If you asked me the same question, there's a good chance I would choose #2 as well. After all, I would much have a good bill slightly compromised than a bad bill written by the Blue Dogs.

Posted by: Christopher on September 25, 2009 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

I tend to agree that Dems should ignore the public's bipartisan bias. However, I would qualify this a bit: people want to see the Republicans and Democrats working together. Because there is no bipartisanship right now, however says something more negative about the Republican strategy than it does about the Democrat's efforts.

I think the Dems should continue to make the effort. I don't think they should wring their hands worrying if their efforts fail.

What effort the Democrats make should be sincere. The public knows when they are being shined-on - take a look at the Republican's efforts with healthcare reform. They say they are for reform but then have no significant policy proposal in place. Rather than engaging in a national discussion they make exaggerated claims about unplugging grandma.

So the Democrats should try for a bipartisan solution but they should not worry if their efforts fail.

Posted by: rawls on September 25, 2009 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

There are times when the American public lives down to Mencken's description of them, and this is one of those times. Once they have the system, they'll change their minds.

Posted by: TCinLA on September 25, 2009 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK

If you start with the one third of the population that is GOP and believes both that the GOP is opposing the health care reform for political reasons (it's good politics to oppose bad bills) AND also believe that the Dems should not pass a bill without GOP support (because such a requirement kills the bill), have have accounted for one half the anamoly. Only about a third of the population is confused: believing that the GOP ought to be included in the bill, but don't think they want to be. The only mystery is why they blame Dems for this -- but other polls just don't really hold that up. Other polls show that the GOP is going to get blamed if this doesn't happen.

Posted by: tom in ma on September 25, 2009 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

Two points

First the majority of Americans don't hold both of the apparently contradictory views. A majority think the GOP is negotiating in bad faith and a majority think the Dems should compromise with the GOP but a minority holds both of those views. Very roughly and ignoring the undecided 40% say the GOP is in bad faith so don't try to deal with them, 40% say the GOP is in good faith so Dems should compromise and 20% say the GOP is negotiating in bad faith and Dems should compromise.

The strange views are held by the 20% who seem to switch views of the GOP from question to question. I will call them "swingers."

Are the swingers crazy ? Well arguably they aren't all crazy. One could interpret the second question as premising that the answer to the first question is that Republicans are negotiating in good faith. If it were phrased

Assuming that it is possible for the Democrats to win a significant number of Republican votes by compromising, should the Democrats

a) pass the bill they think is best with no Republican support
b) compromise to win some Republican support.

That is, the question more or less asserts that it is possible to win some Republican support by compromising.

Rational people can answer hypothetical questions where the hypothesis is a statement which they think is false.

Posted by: Robert Waldmann on September 25, 2009 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

The results make perfect sense to me. People believe that a bipartisan effort is better or somehow more legitimate. Of course it could be as simple as wanting members of Congress to behave like grow-ups.

Posted by: ET on September 25, 2009 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

You've got to work with the Republicans you've got, not the Republicans you wish you had.

This poll reflects the Republicans people wish they had.

Posted by: cld on September 25, 2009 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

Why would you put the word "try" in the question? The question is, do you want the Democrats to pass their plan, not whether you want the Democrats to "TRY" to pass their plan.

You would only put "try" in there if you thought the Democrats could not do it.

For example, do you want your son to try to get to the Olympics? No, because he is just setting himself up for dissapointment.

Do I want my son to get to the Olympics? Yes.

Posted by: DR on September 25, 2009 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

I believe this poll reveals that the democrats should assume a atrong position and aggressively push for a regulated national exchange open to everyone, a public option available to everyone, and the abilitity for individuals to receive a voucher if they dont't like the insurance their employer is offering . This is a reasonable position that can quite creditably be defended as a real compromise between a market-based approach and a single-payer system. It should be noted that it is precisely the fact that politicians change their positions according to their interpretations of the "polls" that destroys their credibility. The democrats should stand on principle here, and I believe they will be rewarded. Now, the only question is whether the democrats are in fact willing to stand up to the insurance lobby, and risk future campaign donations.

Posted by: Jason on September 25, 2009 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

Heck, according to the Repugs themselves, they've already got 80% of what they want in the Dem's bill, so the Dems should just pass it via reconciliation and tout it as a "bipartisan solution with 80% of what the minority party wanted." Stupid Dems. This is why I'm not a Democrat.

Posted by: josef on September 25, 2009 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

Mealy dweebs like Broder have promulgated the "bipartisanship" drivel. It's "respectable", get it?

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