Health care reform is still quite popular, contrary to what you may have heard. What’s taking a hit is the multiple reform plans being batted around in Congress, which have confused the public and given conservatives a terrific opportunity to road test every antireform argument they can think of. After all, with so many plans floating around, how can the public be sure that these arguments don’t apply to at least one plan or provision of a plan that might possibly become law? And progressives for their part have had a very difficult time figuring out how to counter conservative arguments since there’s nothing definite and solid for them to defend.
That’s too bad because the public continues to support the key elements of health care reform. Here are some representative recent data from the Pew Research Center: by 79-15, the public supports “Requiring insurance companies to sell health coverage to people, even if they have pre-existing medical conditions”; by 65-29, they support “Requiring that all Americans have health insurance, with the government providing financial help for those who can’t afford it”; by 63-32, they support “Raising taxes on families with incomes of more than $350,000 and individuals earning more than $280,000”; by 61-33, they support “Requiring employers to pay into a government health care fund if they do not provide health insurance to their employees”; and by 52-37, they support “A government health insurance plan to compete with private health insurance plans.”
Reflecting these sentiments, respondents reply favorably when provisions like this are put into a description of a specific plan. In the recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, such a description of a specific plan elicited a 56-38 split in favor of the plan. This is quite different than the negative-leaning response typically received when polls ask respondents whether they support the “health care proposals being discussed in Congress” or some other general formulation.
Finally, it is worth noting that despite growing worries about the budget deficit, the public continues to put a higher priority on spending more on health care reform than on reducing the deficit. In the Pew poll that choice produced a 55-40 split in favor of spending more on health care reform.
So don’t believe the hype. Health care reform is alive and kicking. What progressives need and eventually will get is a specific plan to advocate for. That will make it far easier for them to promote the cause of health care reform and far harder for the conservatives to make their antireform arguments stick.
Ruy Teixeira is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. To learn more about his public opinion analysis go to the Media and Culture page and the Progressive Studies program page of our website.