by Scott Rasmussen and Doug Schoen (The Wall Street Journal Op-Ed)
One of the more amazing aspects of the health-care debate is how steady public opinion has remained. Despite repeated and intense sales efforts by the president and his allies in Congress, most Americans consistently oppose the plan that has become the centerpiece of this legislative season.
In 15 consecutive Rasmussen Reports polls conducted over the past four months, the percentage of Americans that oppose the plan has stayed between 52% and 58%. The number in favor has held steady between 38% and 44%.
The dynamics of the numbers have remained constant as well. Democratic voters strongly support the plan while Republicans and unaffiliated voters oppose it. Senior citizens—the people who use the health-care system more than anybody else and who vote more than anybody else in midterm elections—are more opposed to the plan than younger voters. For every person who strongly favors it, two are strongly opposed.
Why can't the president move the numbers? One reason may be that he keeps talking about details of the proposal while voters are looking at the issue in a broader context. Polling conducted earlier this week shows that 57% of voters believe that passage of the legislation would hurt the economy, while only 25% believe it would help. That makes sense in a nation where most voters believe that increases in government spending are bad for the economy.
When the president responds that the plan is deficit neutral, he runs into a pair of basic problems. The first is that voters think reducing spending is more important than reducing the deficit. So a plan that is deficit neutral with a big spending hike is not going to be well received.
But the bigger problem is that people simply don't trust the official projections. People in Washington may live and die by the pronouncements of the Congressional Budget Office, but 81% of voters say it's likely the plan will end up costing more than projected. Only 10% say the official numbers are likely to be on target.
As a result, 66% of voters believe passage of the president's plan will lead to higher deficits and 78% say it's at least somewhat likely to mean higher middle-class taxes. Even within the president's own political party there are concerns on these fronts.
A plurality of Democrats believe the health-care plan will increase the deficit and a majority say it will likely mean higher middle-class taxes. At a time when voters say that reducing the deficit is a higher priority than health-care reform, these numbers are hard to ignore.
The proposed increase in government spending creates problems for advocates of reform beyond the perceived impact on deficits and the economy. Fifty-nine percent of voters say that the biggest problem with the health-care system is the cost: They want reform that will bring down the cost of care. For these voters, the notion that you need to spend an additional trillion dollars doesn't make sense. If the program is supposed to save money, why does it cost anything at all?
On top of that, most voters expect that passage of the congressional plan will increase the cost of care at the same time it drives up government spending. Only 17% now believe it will reduce the cost of care.
The final piece of the puzzle is that the overwhelming majority of voters have insurance coverage, and 76% rate their own coverage as good or excellent. Half of these voters say it's likely that if the congressional health bill becomes law, they would be forced to switch insurance coverage—a prospect hardly anyone ever relishes. These numbers have barely moved for months: Nothing the president has said has reassured people on this point.
The reason President Obama can't move the numbers and build public support is because the fundamentals are stacked against him. Most voters believe the current plan will harm the economy, cost more than projected, raise the cost of care, and lead to higher middle-class taxes.
That's a tough sell when the economy is hurting and people want reform to lower the cost of care. It's also a tough sell for a president who won an election by promising tax cuts for 95% of all Americans.