Are folks ‘for’ or ‘agin’ healthcare reform? Both, according to the partisan rhetoric

March 17, 2010

USA-HEALTHCARE/OBAMA

USA-HEALTHCARE/

Republicans say Americans don’t want the president’s healthcare reforms. Democrats beg to differ. What’s true? Depends how you figure, though as Mark Twain observed: figures don’t lie, but liars … well, you know.

Not that anyone would lie, of course. But opinion polls have been dumping figures aplenty into the debate in Congress, and the debaters have been eagerly using them to patch up their arguments’ foundations.

Take the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey: 46 percent want Congress to pass President Barack Obama’s plan; 45 percent don’t.

Some might see that as evidence of an American public split right down the middle. But not Steny Hoyer.

“The Wall Street Journal poll that just came out shows the majority of those responding indicate they’re for the bill,” the House Democratic majority leader told ABC’s Good Morning America.

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What he means is that if you look only at the 91 percent who definitively said they want or don’t want the Obama plan, the 46 percent in favor becomes a majority of 50.5 percent.

Confused? Get used to it.

Republicans in Congress like to see Obama’s public approval ratings of just under 50 percent — the NBC/WSJ poll puts the president at 48 percent — as evidence he’s fallen out of favor with most Americans since the healthcare debate began last summer.

What they’re not so forthright about are the disastrous approval ratings for members of Congress, which NBC/WSJ put at 17 percent. In fact, half of those surveyed would vote out every single member of Congress, including their own representatives.

Meanwhile, House Republicans in tight re-election races are casting Speaker Nancy Pelosi, not Obama, as the villain on reform. Why? They appear to see Obama’s popularity as a disadvantage, while Pelosi conveniently lurks in the same Tartarus of public opinion as the rest of them. But Obama’s popularity? Yes. Some pundits think 48 percent is pretty good considering the severity of public anger against incumbents.

USA-HEALTHCARE/PELOSISo what do Americans actually think about healthcare? Hard to figure. But as polls past suggest, the answer may really truly depend on the question. Ask people about comprehensive government involvement and many may run scared. Focus on individual features of reform and the results can be surprisingly different.

The public option has been one of the most popular individual reform features, favored by a 57 percent majority. That’s the same public option Democrats abandoned long ago as being way too radical.

Go figure.

Photo credits: Reuters/Carlos Barria (Healthcare reform advocates); Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Healthcare reform opponents); Reuters/Jim Young (A stormy U.S. Capitol)

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