Does New Poll Give the Public Option New Life?

A majority of Americans back a public option health care bill, even without Republican support

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Monday night, news broke of a fresh Washington Post-ABC News poll showing a "clear majority" of respondents backing both a health insurance mandate--which would require all Americans to buy insurance--and a government-run public plan. Crucially, the poll showed the public-- particularly independents--supports the public option even if a bill including it had "no GOP support in Congress." But this doesn't match what's happening in Washington, where even Democratic support for the public option is contested (though lately the option has been gaining strength in the Senate). So what's the deal?

As liberal bloggers try to parse this latest poll, here are four takes on what the numbers mean:

  • Crucial: This Poll Asked the Right Questions the Right Way  "Other polls," writes analyst Greg Sargent at The Plum Line, "have offered respondents a straight choice--do they want a partisan bill or a bipartisan one--without explaining that [the latter] has actual policy consequences." So this poll, Sargent argues, in asking whether respondents favored a public option plan even without bipartisan support over a no-public option plan with bipartisan support, "is a far more accurate depiction of the choice the public and lawmakers face."
  • Ditch Bipartisanship  "The message is clear," writes Jon Walker at popular blog FireDogLake. "Outside the beltway, regular American don’t put much value on bills getting some 'bipartisan' votes. What the majority of Americans want is real actions which can improve their lives ... like the public option. People care about results, not process."
  • Why Won't People Believe This?  Calling this "[a]nother poll proving people want the public option," left-leaning Taylor Marsh laments that "[s]ome just won't believe it, ... includ[ing] some of Obama's top aides." Looking at other parts of the poll, which show Obama with a "big political advantage over Republicans," Marsh sums up his argument:
I don’t know how many other ways it can be said, so I’ll just say it again. There is no reason whatsoever why Democrats cannot put the public option in the bill. None. Zero. Zip. ... [Obama] ... seems to have convinced himself that he’ll need Republicans going forward, whether it’s true or not.
  • Obama May be Afraid of the 'Teabaggers'  "D.C. conventional wisdom is wrong, again," Americablog's Joe Sudbay concurs. "Good policy trumps the Congressional process. It's so inside-the-beltway to think the process matters." He also offers an explanation as to why pro-public option Democrats like Obama might be dragging their feet:
All of this has me wondering if the Teabaggers and their fake August protests didn't scare the hell out of the White House and the Democrats in Congress. They actually believe that opposition to the public option is real, simply because a handful of nutjobs, organized by Glenn Beck, told them it was. There's still time for our president to lead.

Update, 9:27 a.m.: MSNBC's First Read team is also highly skeptical of the Post's coverage of its poll: "Wow, did the Washington Post pump up a very minor uptick when it comes to the public option," they exclaim.

Last month in the Post/ABC poll, 55% supported the idea (in the way they worded it); this month, that number is 57%. But today’s headline ("Public option gains support") is all public option advocates will need ... To be fair, this is the fourth time when majorities in the Post/ABC poll have favored the public option. Perhaps that is what the paper was trying to point out...
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