A senior Republican aide frustrated with "White House spin" calls attention to a Gallup survey of adults; 34% of them say that the "sometimes heated protests at sessions held by members of Congress have made them more sympathetic to the protesters' views." Independents are similarly likely to be influenced in that fashion, with 35% saying the protesters are generating sympathy compared to 16% who say they aren't. The idea my Republican correspondent is getting at is that, pace the White House strategy of demonizing the protesters as fringe-ists, they're actually building something of a movement among independent voters who are the real targets this recess.

The Gallup poll is not that instructive; the drift rightward of independents could be happening. Consider that independent anxieties about health care reform are organic and preceded the public displays of anger that were AstroTurfed into existence and then took flight on their own. It helps to remember that the Republican Party's brand is so poor these days that many conservatives refuse to associate with the Party but remain reliable ideological cousins to those who do. The health care protests, whatever they are, aren't contrivances by the national Republican Party, although the party was quick to associate themselves with the enthusiasm. They were -- are -- a mix of Lyndon LaRouche supporters (who patented the Obama-is-Nazi theme), Ron Paul-type libertarians, Astroturfed anti-tax P1 radio audiences, and, generally, non-angry independents who are concerned about health care -- who are not natural supporters of major institutional reform -- who have real worries.

If there is a bandwagon effect, and if the Democratic/Obama/liberal response is comparatively weak, these conservatives will no doubt gravitate toward one side. That's how group dynamics work. That's one reason why Obama is making an emotional appeal to these people -- think about reform as a project that helps your country; don't believe the fearmongerers who stand in the way of change, etc. But he can't make that message work until he gets these folks to understand, at a basic level, that health care reform won't hurt them.

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