The idea of a public option in healthcare reform is not dead yet. A lot of Democrats believe you need it to hold down costs. A lot also see it as a first stride towards Medicare-for-all, which is where they want the system to end up. Obama has signalled he is ready to drop the idea, but has given no strong steer one way or the other. The party, especially in the House, is not willing to give up on it just yet.

One of the things keeping the notion afloat is the belief that voters, too, are pretty keen. I've blogged before about this (here and here), noting that the polling results are actually all over the place. The answer depends on the way the question is framed. The variation also suggests confusion--which is warranted, given the complexity of these proposals, with or without the option.

The excellent Jay Cost at Real Clear Politics has taken a much more careful look at the question. Framing is everything, he finds, and questions which draw attention to possible consequences of the option elicit less support.

Cost draws attention to some Rasmussen polling. When asked,

"Would you favor or oppose the creation of a government-sponsored non-profit health insurance option that people could choose instead of a private health insurance plan?"

the answer is strong approval. Then comes a follow-up question.

"Suppose that the creation of a government-sponsored non-profit health insurance option encouraged companies to drop private health insurance coverage for their workers. Workers would then be covered by the government option. Would you favor or oppose the creation of a government-sponsored non-profit health insurance option if it encouraged companies to drop private health insurance coverage for their workers?"

A clear majority is now opposed.

So, does this mean that the public is actually against the public option? I'd say no. Instead, I would suggest that the public lacks sufficient information about that specific item to deliver a firm opinion. Accordingly, its opinion varies depending upon question wording, priming effects, the ebbs and flows of the news cycle, and so on.

Sounds right to me.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.