Conundrum Continues: Support For Public Option, Not For Congress's Plan

Another note on today's Washington Post poll: once again, Americans reportedly support the public option, but they don't back the overall plan being developed in Congress, just like the last time the Post polled on health care.

This cuts, pretty directly, against the concerns that both observers of the legislative process and key members of the Senate have voiced: that Democratic plans might go too far--that anything but the most conservative incarnation of Democratic health reform (the bill put out by the Senate Finance Committee) will be too liberal to earn consensus, i.e. the support of centrist senators like Ben Nelson (D-NE), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), and Olympia Snowe (R-ME).

According to the Post, that's not how the public sees it--they think Congress's current plans don't go far enough:

health care far enough wapo poll.jpg
Americans support the public option overwhelmingly, 57 percent to 40 percent, according to the survey. They oppose the "changes to the health care system being developed by (Congress) and (the Obama administration)" 48 percent to 45 percent.

People like the public option; Congress's plans don't include it; people don't like Congress's plans. It seems simple enough, and it's been borne out by other recent polls as well: an Oct. 5 McClatchty/Ipsos poll found the public opposed to current plans 42 percent to 40 percent and in favor of the public option 53 percent to 42 percent, while an Oct. 8 Quinnipiac poll showed the public opposed to overall reform plans 47 percent to 40 percent and in favor of the public option 61 percent to 34 percent.

Sounds like Democrats should find a way to add the public option, and their problems will be solved.

Not so fast. In September the Post found that support for overall reform plans increased if the public option wasn't included: in general, the public opposed health reform 49 percent to 46 percent; when asked what they thought of reforms if the public option was excluded, they supported health care reform 50 percent to 40 percent.

If this seems ambiguous, it is. Today's poll shows strong support for the public option, but doubts remain about opinion on health care reform as a whole. Three polls this month showed at least 10 percent of Americans unsure of or with no opinion on Democratic reforms. One poll last month showed 46 percent in the undecided category. (See a list of recent polls here.)

The discrepancy in opinion on the public option and the plans as a whole presents a conundrum to moderate senators and analysts watching the legislative process play out, but probably not to the rest of the public--especially those who want a more liberal version of reform to pass. But on the whole, opinion on health reform has varied from survey to survey, and it's hard to say exactly what the public wants and how badly they want it.