Rorschach: One Big Poll, So Many Interpretations

Just what do Americans think about health care?

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A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows remarkable things. No one can seem to agree, however, on what it shows. While the Wall Street Journal's report claims opinion on the health care bill is negative, 48% to 36%, the MSNBC First Read team reports that opinion is almost equally split, with 46% in favor of the bill and 45% against. The reason turns out to be that the two sources are looking at slightly different questions. The first asks whether "Barack Obama's health care plan" is a "good idea or a bad idea," and the second asks whether passing this plan is preferable to keeping the current system.

That's just one source of division as commentators pull lessons regarding health care legislation, Democratic strategy, and the potential for a big changes for November. Here's the roundup from those reading the tea leaves:
  • A Country Divided  MSNBC's First Read team notes that the nation is back, after the "Democratic routs in '06 and '08", to the 50-50 divisions of the Bush years. "In the survey, the public is split on whether Congress should pass the health-care bill (46%-45%), on President Obama's approval rating (48%-47%), and on which political party would do a better job handling the economy (31%-31%)." What does that mean? "In the short term, the partisan divide could end up helping Obama and the Democrats, especially on health care."
  • A Country That Hates the Health Care Bill  The Wall Street Journal's Peter Wallace and Jean Spencer, as mentioned above, take the 36% to 48% numbers regarding health care bill support, and work from there, as does Hot Air's Allahpundit. The National Review's Daniel Foster notes both the 36/48 figure and the bill-versus-status quo figure highlighted by MSNBC--45/46. His tiebreaker: the miniscule 26% of the public who approve of the Senate using reconciliation to pass the bill.
  • A Country that Hates Congress  That's one thing upon which most folks seem to agree. Steve Benen picks out the "humiliating" 17% approval rating. Daily Kos's DemFromCT notes the 51% wanting a new representative.
  • Obama on Health Care to Revitalize Base ... But Should He Look Elsewhere?  Commentary's Jennifer Rubin also notes the 21-point "'enthusiasm' gap" between Republicans and Democrats vis-a-vis November elections, as does Hot Air's Allahpundit, who thinks this is the main takeaway from the poll. "Democrats," Rubin says, "conclude that the solution is to rev up their base by passing a health-care bill that everyone else hates quite a lot." But that might just "drive anti-Obama voters to the polls in even greater numbers." Instead, she argues,
There is another set of polling data of which Obama might want to take note. A robust foreign policy appeals to the American voters. Where Obama has continued and bolstered his predecessor's policies--Iraq and Afghanistan--he gets his highest approval ratings (53 percent). ...
The message from this may be that Obama's path to political success will come not from pursuing his radical domestic agenda but in successfully fighting  the war against Islamic fundamentalism. Yes, it is ironic.
  • No, He Shouldn't  "If they fail to pass the bill," writes The New Republic's Jonathan Chait, "the enthusiasm gap will probably grow."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.