The battle for public opinion has been lost. Comprehensive health care has been lost.
Yes, most Americans believe that real health care reform is needed. And, yes, certain proposals in the plan are supported by the public.
However, a solid majority of Americans oppose the massive health-reform plan. Four-fifths of those who oppose the plan strongly oppose it, according to Rasmussen polling, while only half of those who support the plan do so strongly. Many more Americans believe the legislation will worsen their health care, cost them more personally and add significantly to the national deficit.
The notion that once enactment is forced, the public will suddenly embrace health care reform could not be further from the truth — and is likely to become a rallying cry for disaffected Republicans, independents and, yes, Democrats.
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Health care is no longer a debate about the merits of specific initiatives. Since the spectacle of Christmas deal-making to ensure passage of the Senate bill, the issue, in voters' minds, has become less about health care than about the government and a political majority that will neither hear nor heed the will of the people.
Voters are hardly enthralled with the GOP, but the Democrats are pursuing policies that are out of step with the way ordinary Americans think and feel about politics and government. Barring some change of approach, they will be punished severely at the polls.— Patrick H. Caddell, a political commentator and former pollster, and Douglas E. Schoen, a pollster
No pollster could look at the recent data and responsibly say anything other than that the American public is closely divided when it comes to supporting or opposing various health care plans. The most recent Washington Post poll (from Feb. 10) shows a narrow gap between support and opposition: 46 percent favor; 49 percent oppose.
Two recent polls, including one with the most negative ratings on health care, reveal through follow-up questions that a significant number of people who oppose current plans do so because they don't go far enough rather than because they go too far. It's absurd to suggest that these people would rise up against Democrats for passing the president's plan.
Health care and health care reform are complex issues for policy experts, let alone for the rest of us. After a year of debate that has focused more on political process than policy, it is not surprising that the Kaiser Health Tracking Poll found in January that more than 4 in 10 Americans are not aware that the current plan includes elements such as tax credits to small business that want to offer coverage to employees, or that it bans insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.
The central components of the plan — a ban on denying coverage of pre-existing conditions, closing the Medicare "doughnut hole" on the drug coverage gap for seniors, creating an insurance exchange in which small business and those without coverage could buy private insurance at competitive rates — are all supported by solid majorities, from 60 to 81 percent.
There's no question that a majority of Americans oppose a government-run health system. But there is no government-run health care in the plan.
Once reform passes, the tangible benefits Americans will realize will trump the fearmongering rhetoric opponents are stoking today. —Joel Benenson, president of Benenson Strategy Group and lead pollster to President Obama