As Democratic congressional leaders and White House officials work to shape health care bills that will go to the House and Senate floors, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that support for a government-run health plan to compete with private insurers has rebounded from its summertime lows and now wins clear majority support from the public.
Americans remain sharply divided about both the overall health care package and President Barack Obama’s leadership on the issue, reflecting the intense partisan battle that has raged for months over the administration’s top legislative priority. But majorities now back two key controversial provisions: the so-called public option and a mandate requiring all Americans carry health insurance.
Independents and senior citizens, two groups crucial to the debate, have warmed to the idea of a public insurance option, and are particularly supportive if it were administered by the states and limited to those without access to affordable private insurance, as stipulated in some versions of the legislation.
But in a sign of the fragile coalition politics that now influence the negotiations in Congress, Obama’s approval ratings on health care are slipping among his fellow Democrats even as they are solidifying among independents and seniors. Among Democrats, strong approval of his handling of health care has dropped 15 percentage points since mid-September.
These numbers underscore the challenges ahead for the president and Democratic congressional leaders as they attempt to maintain support among liberals and moderates in their own party while continuing to seek approval from at least a few Republican lawmakers.
Overall, 45 percent of Americans favor the broad outlines of the proposals now moving in Congress, while 48 percent are opposed – about the same division as in August at the height of the angry town hall meetings over health care. Seven in 10 Democrats back the plan, while almost nine in 10 Republicans oppose it. Independents divide 52 percent against, 42 percent in favor of the set of reforms.
There are also deep splits in the new poll over whether the proposed changes go too far or not far enough in expanding coverage and controlling costs. Twice as many see the plan as leading to too much, rather than too little, government involvement, but since last month there has been a nine-point increase in the number who say government should be more involved.
On the issue that has been a flash point in the national debate, 57 percent of all Americans now favor a public insurance option, while 40 percent are opposed. Support has risen since mid-August, when a bare majority, 52 percent, said they favored it. (In a June Post-ABC poll, support had been at 62 percent.)
The poll was conducted by conventional and cellular telephone from Oct. 15-19 among a random sample of 1,004 adults. The margin of sampling error for the full poll is plus or minus 3 percentage points.