Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 22, 2010

MORE INFORMATION MEANS MORE SUPPORT.... When evaluating public opinion on health care reform, there's an ongoing debate about how to interpret opposition to proposals. Democrats tend to argue, persuasively, that Americans who oppose reform are basing their concerns on misinformation -- too many people have seen too many misleading attack ads, and it's driving the poll numbers down.

Republicans argue that the public understands the details of the proposal just fine, and they simply don't like what they see. It's not about confusion, the GOP argues; it's about the substance and fundamental elements of the legislation.

There's ample reason to believe the Democratic explanation is the correct one. Take the results of the latest Newsweek poll, for example.

As Democrats struggle to salvage health-care-reform legislation, a new NEWSWEEK Poll shows that while a majority of Americans say they oppose Obama's plan, a majority actually support the key features of the legislation.... The more people know about the legislation, the more likely they are to support major components of it.

When asked about Obama's plan (without being given any details about what the legislation includes), 49 percent opposed it and 40 percent were in favor. But after hearing key features of the legislation described, 48 percent supported the plan and 43 percent remained opposed.

Let's not rush past that too quickly. Respondents were asked what they think about the Democratic plan, and opponents outnumbered supporters. Those respondents were then given information about what's actually in the plan, at which point supporters outnumbered opponents.

In fact, support jumped 10 points among self-identified moderates, eight points among self-identified independents, and 10 points among women.

We've seen this phenomenon before. A month ago, the Kaiser Family Foundation released a report noting that while Americans were evenly divided in their feelings about the reform proposal, support for the plan grew when the public learned about the plan's details. And this has been common for months -- over the summer, in the middle of the right-wing freak-out, an NBC/WSJ poll found that 36% of Americans approved of the plan. When the plan was actually described, support jumped to 53%.

The importance of this cannot be overstated. Opposition to health care reform has been driven by lies, misinformation, confusion, and fear. But the more Americans learn the truth, the more they like what they hear.

Moving forward, then, Democratic policymakers should have a very strong incentive to finish the job and pass reform -- it's the only way to turn the polls around, kill the caricature, and reap the rewards of a historic victory.

Public opinion is not immovable; Dems just have to give success a chance.

Steve Benen 12:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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People are less likely to be afraid of a friendly dog if they are told the dog is "good with people" and "loves children." If they are told the dog is vicious, rabid, or a Nazi, they are more likely to be afraid of it.

If more information means more support then less support definitely means a lack of information [thanks, media!] and even worse — serious disinformation [thanks, lying, Tea-Bagging Republicans!].

Posted by: chrenson on February 22, 2010 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks, Libral Media! People know less real info about HCR than about Tiger's love life.

Posted by: Dems lose huge in 2010 on February 22, 2010 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

There needs to be a public information campaign by the Dems to explain what's in the bill. Also, no Democrat should go on the air or do an interview who can't clearly state the top provisions of the legislation -- AND, once the bill passes, no Democrat who's interviewed, etc., can appear to be defensive about it.

Posted by: Bat of Moon on February 22, 2010 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

I think that the President can rather easily demonstrate to the TV viewers that all the Repubs' substantive concerns are ALREADY met in the bills.

This will require a bit of an explanation as to how and why a "free market" solution like an unregulated cross-state insurance market, (which is the Republicans' magic wand, in addition to "tort reform,") would actually be harmful -- because it leads to much the same result as the credit-card companies -- but I think the President is up to the pedagogical challenge.

Then the politically smart thing to do is to pass the current reform bill by reconciliation.

Then everybody will take 2-3 months to find out everything the reform does, and the parts they don't like, and the prospects for improving it again in the near future, if you elect good people.

Then peoples' emotions will subside, and they will say, "You know what, this reform is going in the right direction, and at least the Democrats had the guts to push it, and the Republicans were total jerks," -- and the Republicans will be out of business for about an entire generation.

After all, the current Republican position is, "We're going to obstruct this, so you can continue to pay 40% more than any other advanced country for the same health statistics...

"Also, we don't think everybody should immediately be covered! It's your fault you're sick!...

"And if you BELIEVE our nonsense that private healthcare insurers should be without regulations like the credit-card companies, and that tort reform will cure all ills, you deserve it!"

Posted by: Lee A. Arnold on February 22, 2010 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

Over the last six months or so, the Republicans oft-repeated phrase "The American people don't want. . ." has now become, thanks to the MSM, established FACT.

A quote from a civil war general seems apt at this moment- "Whoever gets there fustest with mostest, wins."

Posted by: DAY on February 22, 2010 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

And this is why Democrats need to get their act together and start practicing message discipline.

Posted by: thorin-1 on February 22, 2010 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

"The importance of this cannot be overstated."

The ongoing ignorance and confusion of the Amerikan Sheeple is not an accident!

It is of critical importance that our corporate media continue their role as republican message echo chambers and amplifiers. As long as our corporate media continues to distort the truth about what is being proposed and to confuse the publik; we republicans will win this battle.

Thank god for Justices Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Kennedy who have provided a legal basis for furthering our corporate/wealthy control of politicians. The tremendous victory which we obtained in Citizens United (Not Timid) vs FEC will allow us to expand our control and defeat any efforts to undermine the god given right of our wealthy benefactors to rule this country.

What a great country!

God bless the Supreme Court!
God bless the United Corporations of Amerika!

Posted by: RepublicanPointOfView on February 22, 2010 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

Democrats are allowing the Republicans to define them and their proposals. They need to get aggressive in communicating to the public.

And I have now been writing sentences like that for something like 30 years.

Beam me up, Scottie!

Posted by: AlphaLiberal on February 22, 2010 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

As with the health care smear, so with every responsibility of government.

I spit on Ronnie Rayguns' grave.

I hope Grover Norquist drowns in his own bathtub.


Posted by: neill on February 22, 2010 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

To borrow from the greatest poet of the 20th century (Bob Dylan):

"You're an idiot, babe.
It's a wonder that you still know how to breathe."

Anyone who believes that the problem is that the dumbocraps need message discipline or that there needs to be a public information campaign by the dumbocraps or that the 'MSM' is anything other than another corporately owned wing of the rethug party (which is corporately/wealthy owned) IS AN IDIOT!

If you believe that any dumbocraps who are not already corporately owned can get air time to counter the rethug message, YOU ARE AN IDIOT!

Give it up, dudes. Thanks to Citizens United (Not Timid) vs FEC, the extreme hold that the wealthy have on politicians is in the process of becoming a complete strangle-hold.

The next big successes in the consulting businesses are those who find ways for the wealthy to buy/blackmail politicians without leaving any 'fingerprints'.

Posted by: SadOldVet on February 22, 2010 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

Not only do people support HCR more when they know more about it, they also support HCR more after they've lived with it. Evidence: Massachusetts, which enacted reform very similar to the proposed Senate bill in 2006. In late 2009, after living with individual mandates, after subsidizing the private health insurers and living with their various perfidies, after the GOP's summer of anti-HCR propaganda, only 11% of Massachusetts voters would repeal the law.


Unfortunately, it looks to me like Obama is further delaying some of the benefits of the plan, perhaps out of financial concern, perhaps out of political concern. The political imperative *should* be to make people (and insurers and our economy) feel the impact as soon as possible.

Posted by: ElegantFowl on February 22, 2010 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

Alpha: And I have now been writing sentences like that for something like 30 years.

Part of the problem is the very make-up of liberals and conservatives and what it means to be American.

Liberals assume that ultimately everyone wants what's best for everyone. So they don't sweat their message discipline the way they should.

Conservatives assume that ultimately everyone wants to take stuff away from them. American conservatives had a vested interest in hording the world's riches through free markets and private enterprise. When America was "the richest nation on earth" conservatives were able to convince their followers that there was enough wealth for everyone who worked hard enough for it.

Now that America is beginning to run out of its abundant resources and the cracks are starting to show, conservatives are loudly clamoring for whatever is left. This means fierce message discipline, lying, etc. to keep the underlings chanting the free market mantras.

Meanwhile, liberals know what's happening and make the assumption that everybody else does, too. Hence, their message isn't "urgent."

Except that the media is no wholly beholden to the hording conservatives, and will be until people start dropping in the streets with flies attacking their eyelids.

Then, and only then, will you be able to stop writing that sentence.

Posted by: chrenson on February 22, 2010 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

You left out a key factor....lobbying money!

This bill has had close to 2/3rd public support WITH a public option and it got bogged down in lies and delays.

Now we're trying to resucitate it through reconciliation and we're blithely allocating another 2 MONTHS to get that done. No good will happen during this period. Spell out the bill in detail online and then tell everyone...you've got another two months to lay out a pattern of lies that convinces the public they don't want it.

Great job!!!

Posted by: dweb on February 22, 2010 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

Another problem: go onto Salon or Huffington Post and read the comments. Non-stop bitching and complaining and insults. Conservatives and Republicans circle the wagons. Progressives and Democrats eat their own. Who needs Limbaugh or fox News when they have Huffington Post doing their work for them?

Posted by: SaintZak on February 22, 2010 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

"Public opinion is not immovable; Dems just have to give success a chance."

WRONG - Dems have to rhetorically beat the repubs senseless to wrest success from their boney clutches. Steve, I know you're trying to be coy, but it gets old sometimes.

Dems have tried to be politely coy and have politically gotten the living shit kicked out of them.

Murkans love a good fight. Let's give it to them.

Posted by: bdop4 on February 22, 2010 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

Had the Democrats effectively and swiftly counterattacked the GOP's distortions from the beginning, health care would not be in jeopardy. The Dems failed to play defense at all, opting to stand mute and act "shocked, shocked, shocked" that the GOP would say such terrible things about them. The Democrats' failure to defend their rather moderate plan, particularly their move to end the widely reviled pre-existing condition exclusion and the odious practice of recission, let the GOP spin lie after lie about "government-run health care" and dead grannies, and those lies took root.

I would like to think that the Democrats learned something about the need to have a clear message and a strong, aggressive defense, but I know better. They seem content being professional punching bags destined for minority status. It's not enough to be smart and have good policies. The Democrats have to learn how to play politics. And if they want to see how it's done, all they need to do is look at the GOP.

Posted by: ameshall on February 22, 2010 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

"The Dems failed to play defense at all, opting to stand mute and act "shocked, shocked, shocked" that the GOP would say such terrible things about them."

But that's not really what happened. there were plenty of Democrats out there beating the drum for healthcare reform all along the way. They got stabbed in the back by members of their own party. Add to that an agenda driven news media. News outlets gave Republicans free range, and they couldn't bend over backwards enough for turn-coat Democrats.

Posted by: SaintZak on February 22, 2010 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

This is so interesting; News organizations and outlets are able to inform poll respondents and get results that support HCR.

At the same time, these same news outlets failed to actually report on HCR and basically reported the GOP nonsense or the he said she said narrative.

Then everybody is dissing President Obama because he failed to communicate what HCR is.

Question: Can anyone tell me what the basis of the now infamous 'Death Panels" is?

Everybody knows what Sarah Palin thinks, does anyone care what the Mayo Clinic, Kaiser, Medicare, and Hospice Care think about end of life issues?

Posted by: bcinaz on February 22, 2010 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

Only in Newsweek does 49% constitute a majority.


Posted by: Chesire11 on February 22, 2010 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

Obama: "All I can do is just to keep on making the argument about what's right for the country and assume that over time people, regardless of party, regardless of their particular political positions, are going to gravitate toward the truth"

Obama assumes correctly - but over what amount of time?

Posted by: Ohioan on February 22, 2010 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

Things for you folks should expect if Obama's Health Care Reform Bill ever passes:

just received a new premium for a tufts health care policy for my family of 3 healthy members with no pre-conditions:

it has increased from about 1700.00 / month to 1923.00 / month.

the plan has high copy and deductibles, with no dental or eye coverage, other than annual checkup for our child.

We in Massachusetts are mandated to buy this corporate products, or face a hefty fine or jail time just like in Obamacare!

This robbery called Obamacare is literally making me SICK!

Posted by: Sarah on February 22, 2010 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

Great! Now the Republicans sound like they have more common sense than the Ds…The bill is simply indefensible. The majority of people are against this bill because it will (1) drive up costs while (2) cutting a half trillion in health care for the elderly (3) Raise Taxes during tough economic times and (4) give sweetheart deals to Democratic special interests like Big Labor, Big Trial Lawyers and Big Pharma. If you really want to cut costs, then why don't you adopt the GOP plans regarding Tort Reform that the CBO says will save over 52 billion per year. Then you can move on to another GOP idea such as ending state mandates so a person in New Jersey doesn't have to pay 3 times as much for the same policy as a man in New Jersey.

Posted by: Tony on February 22, 2010 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

I believe there is a way to use the market to drive down insurance costs, and disarm opponents. A public health insurance option and its impact on the private market was never fully evaluated, allowing industry and opponents to easily distort the debate. Suppose the CBO evaluates one or more basic policies available to all as individuals - e.g., the policy could be modeled on Medicare, based on $500 deductibles, an 80/20 copay, a fair multiplier relative to age, and a risk pool comparable to that of Well Point. Next, PUBLISH the expected premiums - all Americans and employers could compare this to their current policy(this would be good information for 02.25 showdown). To take this a step further, require the private insurance providers - without Anti-Trust exemptions, free to insure in any state - quote their rate for IDENTICAL policies at customers’ request.

This could change the debate. I believe solid data will show that this alternative to the private market is a better product at a better price, and will drive improvements. Screaming may ensue from the right, but facts are stubborn things.

Legislation can be minimal, and results improved through the market when a public insurance policy is a better product freely available to all.
Let the health insurance industry CONTINUE their current practices, the better to contrast it with a public insurance policy. Politically, it will be difficult to demagogue a better product at a better price, and this would force opponents to defend the current system. The need for mandates, health care reforms, and the most effective means of making insurance affordable could be evaluated after insurance is truly competitive, and is based on serving the customer. Use reconciliation to expand Medicaid, remove Anti-Trust and competitive restrictions, allow re-importation of drugs, and allow negotiation of drug prices on Medicare Part D and a public health policy - and to clearly identify those who oppose these provisions. Provide true competition and thereby allow the market to work - private insurance will have to improve their product to survive - then find and address market failures from a better starting point.

Posted by: J. Roseman on February 22, 2010 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

Well, when the state cuts health insurance out of my retirement plan. Or when the insurance companies make it so expensive I cannot even afford the medications I sometimes get now. I think a insurance reform and health plan is a good idea.

But then again, all those rich Republicans must like the idea of being surrounded by sick and dieing people while they remain healthy and alive. After all they like torture.

Posted by: Kurt on February 22, 2010 at 5:23 PM | PERMALINK

GOP plans regarding Tort Reform that the CBO says will save over 52 billion per year.

That's the next 10 years, Sparky. Who could have predicted that a loyal Fox viewer could be so dishonest or so confused?

GOP idea such as ending state mandates so a person in New Jersey doesn't have to pay 3 times as much for the same policy as a man in New Jersey.

New Jersey people can't be New Jersey men? What a bummer for them. Even so, you're again lying, or at the very best, deeply bewildered about what that GOP idea really is: total deregulation and a race to the bottom in one or two states where insurers will then congregate. You may get lower premiums via deregulation (doubtful, given what we've seen in other industries). You will get much worse benefits. You're likely stupid enough to fall for it, but we don't make public policy based on society's dumbest members' wishes.

Posted by: Toni on February 22, 2010 at 7:46 PM | PERMALINK

The average person in this country has a life to live and cannot keep up with all the information that's out there. I follow the news closely but have lost track of what's in the various bills too. Our educational system is so poor the average person can't name the Vice President, doesn't know the function of the Supreme Court, can't find the Atlantic Ocean on a map, etc

The relentless right wing noise machine provides simple, easily remembered story lines that explain the world to the ill informed. This machine has destroyed the momentum of Democratic Presidents and we have no response.

Our leaders and donors have to get together (like conservatives did in the 60's) and fund and organize young people's groups, college newspapers, radio talk shows, etc As long as we cede the narrative to the other side we can't be surprised we can't get anything done.

Posted by: Marion on February 23, 2010 at 7:49 AM | PERMALINK
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