Now that the U.S. House of Representatives approved a health care reform bill by a 219-212 vote and the Senate appears likely to follow suit, the political wagons are circling in what’s sure to be some nasty congressional races this fall.
Republicans, however, shouldn’t expect to cruise to victory, and here’s why.
GOP leaders consistently point to poll numbers to allege a majority of Americans didn’t want the bill to be passed. Other than highly suspect polls by Fox News, that’s not necessarily the message to take away from the numbers if you dig deeper into the data.
A Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking Poll, for example, finds that 46 percent of respondents either “strongly support” or “somewhat support” the bill, compared to 42 percent who either “strongly oppose” or "somewhat oppose” it. Twelve percent are unsure.
The same poll asked if the nation as a whole would be better off or worse off if President Obama and Congress passed the health care reform bill. Forty-five percent said “better off,” 34 percent said “worse off” and 14 percent said “not much difference.”
(The Kaiser poll was taken March 10-15 and surveyed 1,208 adults. It has a margin of error of 3 percent.)
Hardly an overwhelming mandate against health care reform as the Tea Partiers, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh assert.
That’s not too surprising, because numerous polls last summer and fall found that most Americans supported health care reform of some sort. The numbers began dragging late last year and early this year, when even the most diehard political junkies got tired of the endless debate.
Also, a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll yielded some interesting findings.
Although Obama’s approval ratings are down (41 percent approve to 57 percent disapprove), people like House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-West Chester) don’t mention some other numbers.
When respondents were asked if they generally approve or disapprove of the way that Republicans in Congress are handling the issue of healthcare reform, the results are eye-opening. Just 35 percent approve, and a whopping 57 percent disapprove. For those keeping track, that’s slightly worse than Obama’s numbers.
Further, the numbers in the NBC/WSJ poll show roughly equal disdain for Republican members of Congress as Democrats.
When asked who is to blame for the long impasse over health care, 25 percent blamed Republicans, 18 percent blamed Democrats and 54 percent blamed both sides.
(The poll was conducted March 11 and March 13-14 and surveyed 1,000 adults. Its margin of error is 3.1 percent.)
With the House vote behind us, Gallup is conducting a poll today to gauge how attitudes might have changed, the results of which will be available Tuesday.
But here’s what Frank Newport, Gallup’s editor-in-chief, wrote online today:
“Our most recent Gallup poll found a 3-percentage point tilt against Congress passing the legislation. Two other recent polls (Pew and Fox News/Opinion Dynamics) showed the healthcare legislation opposed by 10-point margins or higher. The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll asked two separate questions about the legislation. One showed a one-point favor over oppose margin. The other showed an eight-point opposition margin. A new poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation finds a four-point favor over oppose margin.
“We note differences across surveys in how the questions were asked. Some survey questions included explicit references to Democrats and to the president. Others do not. Some asked a basic favor or oppose question about the plan. Others asked more explicitly about Congress voting for or against the plan.”
In fact, more detailed polls taken last summer and fall found that some people who said they didn’t support the bill did so because they believed it didn’t go far enough in its reforms. Those respondents generally favored some sort of public option. Recent polls have tended to lump left/progressive objections in with right/conservative opposition.
There doesn’t seem to be a cut-and-dry attitude about the bill among Americans. Views of Congress are almost universally dismal, whether Democrat or Republican. I suspect much of the recent opposition to the bill has more to do with process issues and bickering rather than the substance of the legislation.
As Newport wrote on the Gallup site, “Congressional job approval is at 16 percent now. Congress is controlled by the Democrats. The Pew Research Center recently asked Americans what word came to mind first when respondents heard the word 'Congress.' The most frequent response was 'dysfunctional.' Another frequently mentioned word was 'inept.' Now Congress has actually done something and passed a new plan. This could counter these existing perceptions. Congressional job approval could grow. Democrats could gain some positioning.”
One thing is for sure: Despite all of their noise, Tea Partiers don’t represent mainstream America.
Their protest outside the Capitol on Saturday will serve only to further demonize them in many people’s minds as some protesters called U.S. Rep. Barney Frank a “faggot” and called U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia) a “nigger.” I have yet to see, hear or read of a pro-reform protest resorting to those tactics.
Perhaps the biggest loser of the past weekend was Greater Cincinnati’s own Boehner.
His over-the-top speech was long on histrionics and short on substance, but it succeeded in making him appear emotionally unbalanced.
Referring to the bill, Boehner yelled, “Can you say it was done openly? With transparency and accountability? Without backroom deals struck behind closed doors hidden from the people? Hell no, you can't. Have you read the bill? Have you read the reconciliation bill? Have you read the manager's amendment? Hell no, you haven't!"
Wrapping up his comments after nearly an hour, he warned of Election Day consequences. “I beg you, I beg each and everyone of you on both sides of the aisle, do not further strike at the heart of this country and this institution with arrogance,” Boehner said. “For surely you will not strike with impunity.”
By the way, Rush, if you need help packing for Costa Rica, give me a call.
UPDATE: Columnist Glenn Greenwald posted the following information this afternoon at Salon.com, which reinforces the point I was making earlier.
A new CNN poll today finds that Americans oppose the current health care plan by a margin of 59-39%, but a sizable portion of those opposed -- 13% -- oppose it because "it is not liberal enough" (see questions 20 and 21):
Thus, a majority of Americans either support the plan or believe it should be more liberal (52%), while only a minority (43%) oppose the plan on the ground that it is too liberal.