Moving Toward Clarity on Health Care Reform

Last week I argued that clarity was conservatives’ greatest enemy on health care. Their plans to derail health care reform depend on spreading confusion about what is in the reform bills before Congress, since the basic components of reform are so popular. Indeed, from their standpoint, the more confusion the better.

So no wonder they didn’t like President Barack Obama’s speech last Wednesday on health care reform. That speech went far toward dispelling confusion and promoting clarity on this issue. Recall these data from last week’s snapshot: At that point (before the speech) the public, by a 60 percent- to 31-percent margin, said the president had not clearly explained his plans for health care reform. But among those who watched the speech last Wednesday views are now quite different. According to a CNN post-speech poll, 72 percent now believe he has clearly stated his goals for a health care bill, compared to just 26 percent who thought he could have been clearer in his speech.

This is a strong result and one must be a little cautious with it, since those interested enough to watch the speech—compared to the public as a whole—are a group relatively sympathetic to the president. But it is still striking how successful Obama was in clearly communicating his goals.

Moreover, a dial testing study conducted by Democracy Corps among independent and weak partisan voters in Colorado suggests that he did not just succeed among those sympathetic to him to begin with. Among the group studied by Democracy Corps—about evenly split between initial supporters and initial opponents of Obama’s health care approach and between Obama and McCain voters in last year’s election—support for Obama’s health care plan went up from 46 percent to 66 percent over the course of the speech.

Moreover, Obama succeeded in changing views of what health care reform was really about in a number of key areas. Those who thought “will get health care costs under control” described health care reform well went up from 42 to 64 percent; those who thought health care reform will allow you to keep your current insurer and doctor if you choose increased from 54 to 80 percent; those who thought health care reform meant increasing competition and lowering prices for health coverage went up from 44 to 74 percent; and those who thought health care reform will give individuals and families more choice and control increased from 36 to 60 percent.

Clarity: It’s a beautiful thing. If you’re not a conservative, that is.

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.