Substantive Health Reform Still Can Persuade the Public

Kevin Friedl has put together a nice piece in National Journal summarizing the independents and the persuadables:

While independents are clearly growing more wary of reform efforts overall, support is actually growing by some measures. The Kaiser Family Foundation's monthly tracking poll asks respondents whether they think health reform would make their family and the country better off. Since April, the percentage of independents who said it would make things worse for their family has nudged up from 15 percent to 18 percent to 22 percent. The percentage who thought it would benefit their family went up as well, though, from 38 percent in April to 41 percent in July. A similar trend held for whether reform would help the country at large. These results suggest independents are being polarized by the issue but aren't heading exclusively to one side.

When asked about specific reform proposals, these voters continue backing some key options put forth by Democrats. While support for a public option actually fell 16 points among Democrats from April to July, it stayed strong among independents; 3 out of 5 continue to support what has turned out to be a major sticking point in Senate negotiations. A June poll commissioned by Democracy Corps (D) put independents' support for a public option lower -- at 49 percent -- but still substantially above the 31 percent of Republicans who approved.

Republicans alone can't scuttle the deal, and Democrats alone can't win elections (though they can pass legislation.) For that reason, independents' opinion will continue to matter politically. And btw, the polls also show Congressional Ds are much more likely to be blamed for failure than Obama. Should health reform efforts fail, polls show Democrats in Congress would likely pay a bigger price in public opinion with Indies than Obama.

Twelve percent of independents in Diageo/Hotline's July poll said that if reform fails to pass before the midterms, they would hold Democratic lawmakers most responsible, while 17 percent said Republicans and just 5 percent pointed to Obama. But independents were more likely than partisans to blame the health care industry, with a 33 percent plurality putting the blame there. In the newer Marist poll, 26 percent of independents clearly pinned Democrats in Congress as most responsible if efforts fail, with Obama placing a distant fourth behind drug companies or blaming no one in particular.

The Diageo/Hotline data (.pdf) are here (July 9-13, 2009,MoE +/- 3.5%), and this is one of the more important findings:

If "doesn't matter" + "helps" + "don't know" continues to lead "hurts" (at 39%), Congress will have more impetus to pass something than not.

And, because the numbers look like this (see Friedl's Indie breakout; this is all adults, all parties):

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