Yes, Repealing Health-Care Reform Is Popular

House Republicans are voting to repeal the health-care overhaul bill today, and the Democratic message machine has whirred into 4th gear or so, easing up just shy of the seizure-inducing pace of spin seen during campaign season.

People don't want the law repealed, Democrats say. The GOP posturing is unpopular and lame, they allege.

"Not only would repeal not pass, but according to a poll by AP over the weekend, three out of four people don't want it to," a Democratic leadership spokesman told the Las Vegas Sun.

Well, don't believe it -- at least not on its face. People do want to repeal health reform ... when given only two options: repeal it or leave it the same. At least that's what some major polls tell us:

Those polls are consistent with the public's overall opposition to the health-care law by an average margin of about five percent, and as high as 10 percent in some polls. President Obama's approval on the issue of health care is still low on average.

From whence do the Democratic claims spring, then?

When poll respondents are given a broader range of options, the picture is a little different.

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Some pollsters have asked whether people want to repeal the law; change it so that it does less; keep it; or change it so that it does more. The answers to these questions provide the numbers being cited by Democrats; that's why the aforementioned leadership spokesman claimed that three out of four people oppose the GOP's repeal effort.

Here's one:

  • AP/GfK, Jan. 5-10: 26 percent want repeal; 10 percent want to scale back the law; 43 percent want to expand the law; 19 percent want to leave it as-is

ABC/Washington Post, meanwhile, ask those options only of people who say they oppose the health-care law, yielding results like this one, published yesterday:

  • ABC/Washington Post, Jan. 13-16: 45 percent support the law; 19 percent want to repeal some of it; 18 percent want to repeal all of it; 17 percent want to wait and see

It all depends on which question is more apt. Should we concern ourselves more with the full range of options? With the set of people who don't like the law (the GOP's base), and what they want to do? With the binary choice of repealing vs. keeping the law?

Looked at one way, Congress can do whatever it wants to the health bill. If it wants to, Congress can expand it or repeal only parts. The broad spectrum of choices, then, should be the proper measuring stick.

Looked at another way, Republicans want to repeal the whole law, and Democrats want to keep it as-is. On that either/or question, the repeal vote wins.

Looked at yet another way, the pool of health-reform opponents are evenly split on what to do about the law, so the GOP's call to repeal it all is a wash when contrasted with the options of partial repeal and waiting and seeing.

But to claim, for instance, that only 26 percent support the GOP's repeal effort means that it's also true that only 19 percent want to leave the law as it is -- and that's a minority position, even if 43 percent want to expand the law's scope, and 10 percent want to scale it back.