The new CNN poll like many others finds greater support (53% to 46%) for a “public option” than for the Senate Health Care Bill which just 36% support, and 61% oppose. The smart conclusion is that the Senate Bill would be more popular if it included a Public Option. But an even smarter question would be to ask why the overall effort is so unpopular.
The worst statistic in the poll is the 22% that believe they or their family would be better off if Health Care Reform passes. Nearly half believe reform will help some people just not them. That less than 1 in 4 believe this effort is good for their family represents a colossal failure of reform proponents to design a plan that helps people and then explains what it will do for a typical family.
Some people mythologize that the public option would solve all of these problems, but adding a public option that would only be used by less than 10% of Americans is not going to turn that 22% into a majority believing health reform is good for them. Nor would it magically diminish the 61% opposing the Senate Bill which highly informed voters would know actually does include a form of a public option at the time this survey of 1041 Americans was taken — December 2 to 3, 2009.
Voters are not that well informed though. An overwhelming 79% believe the Senate Bill will add to the deficit even though the Congressional Budget Office has stated that it would actually shrink the deficit, as President Obama has promised it would.
The reason support for health care reform is declining is really very simple. The only messages the public is receiving is that health care reform is bad. Turn on Fox News any given night and the message is this or that health reform bill is bad. Turn on MSNBC any given night and the message is this or that health reform bill is bad. Fox News blames all Democrats and MSNBC blames some Democrats.
The poll finds near even support for Democrats (40%) and Republicans (39%) to control Congress, a substantial gain for Republicans and most pollsters will tell you this actually represents a lead for Republicans because Democrats show up better in surveys than at the polls on election Day in non-presidential years. If things do not turn around quickly, Democrats will be in deeper trouble than they imagine with or without passing health care reform with or without a “public option.”
The answer is that we need more message discipline. We need more voices of support for the underlying effort at health care reform. For every blog post about the public option that will effect fewer than 10% of the public, there needs to be 10 posts about the other provisions of the bill – no more pre-existing condition exclusions, no dropping coverage for people who get sick, insurance exchanges that offer choice and competition, etc. And if Democrats do not stop attacking other Democrats as being too much like Republicans there will soon be a lot more Republicans around to sharpen the comparison.