The headlines from the Washington Post-ABC News poll say that support for a “public option” and an insurance mandate have increased from their low-point this summer. But the poll’s actual questions and answers look a lot different than the headlines.
The “public option” question reads as if the Democrats wrote it, phrasing it as a means to increase competition: “Would you support or oppose having the government create a new health insurance plan to compete with private health insurance plans?” Not surprisingly, when asked the question in that way, people have supported the “public option” across the months. They supported it by a 29-point margin (62-33) in June, and they support it by a much smaller margin — 17 points (57-40) – now. True, they supported it by only a 6-point margin in August (52-46). But at that point the House bill was the focus of discussion, and it contained a “public option,” unlike the Senate Finance Committee bill that has been the focus of late.
The Post’s question about an insurance mandate reads, “Would you support or oppose a law that requires all Americans to have health insurance, either getting it from work, buying it on their own, or through eligibility for Medicare or Medicaid?” That language sounds as much like it would offer a gift as impose an obligation. It’s so gentle that one almost hears a grandmotherly voice reading it, and it certainly doesn’t sound like it would require Americans to buy insurance and fine them if they don’t. Furthermore, the Post claims that a mandate’s popularity has increased, but that’s false. When the Post asked this question previously, the parts about Medicare and Medicaid weren’t included. Not surprisingly, when they were added, support increased — but not by much. This tells us nothing.
But other questions tell us plenty: When asked, “Do you think health care reform would strengthen the Medicare program, weaken Medicare or have no effect on it?” Americans responded by an overwhelming margin of 43-18 that Medicare would be weakened by the proposed reforms. And that margin has increased by seven points since September alone. This is the single biggest political vulnerability for the Senate bill, and the Post poll makes that point loud and clear.
When asked, “Do you think the health care plan creates too much government involvement in the nation’s health care system, not enough government involvement or about the right amount?” Americans responded by an 8-point margin (42-34) that Obamacare would create too much government involvement, rather than the right amount. (Only 21% said it would create too little government involvement — although, not surprisingly, that number rose when the “public option” wasn’t included in the Senate Finance bill.) Interestingly, when the Post asked exactly the same question for Hillarycare 15 years ago, respondents’ answers were very similar, only the average margin then was 6 points. So Americans are slightly more convinced now that they were during the debate over Hillarycare that the proposed plans would give the government too much control, rather than just the right amount. Hillarycare, of course, lost.
Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, respondents opposed “a tax on the most expensive health insurance policies” by the overwhelming margin of 61-35, even though most people presumably don’t think this would affect them directly. This strongly suggests that the high taxes imposed by the Senate bill — $2.3 trillion over 20 years (according to the CBO) – are a real political weakness.
The poll also shows that more Americans oppose the current health-care efforts than support them, by a margin of 48-45 — and this margin has been within two points of that tally since August. Furthermore, as other polls have consistently shown as well, the number of people who strongly oppose Obamacare greatly outnumber those who strongly support it — by a double-digit margin (36-26).
Lastly, the poll shows that the American people have less confidence in President Obama on health care than on any other issue — aside from the federal deficit, which Americans recognize is closely related. By a margin of 68-10, Americans think that Obamacare would increase the deficit, and this margin has increased slightly since September.
In all, Americans clearly think that the Democrats’ plans would grant the government too much control, badly weaken Medicare, and increase the deficit — and they oppose the imposition of new taxes.
That’s a recipe for defeat, and opponents of Obamacare should take heart.
Boris Becker used to say that the fifth set isn’t about tennis. If we can match the liberals’ will to win, we will prevail in this debate. The ideas, and the people, are on our side.
— Jeffrey H. Anderson is a senior fellow in health-care studies at the Pacific Research Institute and was the senior speechwriter for Secretary Mike Leavitt at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during Pres. George W. Bush’s second term.