Over the past few months, public opinion has solidified, leaving Obama and the Democrats with the political challenge of enacting one of the most ambitious pieces of domestic legislation in decades in the face of a nation split over the wisdom of doing so. In the new poll, 48 percent say they support the proposed changes; 49 percent are opposed.
The parts of the health care reform championed by the “political left” and opposed by so-called “centrists” in Congress continue to have very high popular support: the public option and the employer mandate.
53% of Americans support having the “government create a new health insurance plan to compete with private health insurance plans,” while only 43% oppose it. The opposition is much weaker than this one question would indicate. 40% of people who said they opposed the public option would support it if it were restricted almost exactly like it is in the House bill, to “only people who do not receive insurance through an employer, or through the existing Medicare or Medicaid programs.”
The health insurance industry/Republican attack message against the public option does seem to be gaining a lot of traction. A strong majority (60%) do think the public option “would force many private health insurers to go out of business.” However, even with that belief, support for the public option still remains strong. It just might be that Americans don't really care if many inefficient private health insurance companies go out of business because they can't compete against a public option.
The employer mandate also continues to have strong support. 66% of Americans support an employer mandate to provide health insurance for companies with a payroll of about $500,000. No one should be surprised by the strong support for an employer mandate. The message of this reform effort has been to build on and strengthen what works in our current employer-based health care system. That would be very hard to do if employers were not required to provide health insurance. Unfortunately, these two very popular proposals are the most likely to be dropped from health care bill in the Senate.