President Obama has been talking seemingly nonstop about health-care reform for about three months now. Yet the New York Times declares Americans still “confused and anxious about a health care overhaul”: A recent poll by the newspaper and CBS News found a plurality of 46 percent doesn’t know enough about the president’s reform plans to say whether they support or oppose them. Only 30 percent strongly support them; 23 percent strongly oppose them.
Why hasn’t Obama been able to take control of this debate?
It isn’t for lack of manufacturing concern about the topic. In January, only 2 percent of Americans considered health care our most important problem; that number has grown steadily to 19 percent this month, second only to the economy.
It isn’t for lack of talking about health care. Just 4 percent of those polled think the president is making too few speeches and public appearances to talk about his proposals.
It isn’t for lack of reading about health-care proposals on the public’s part. More than three-quarters of those polled say they have read “some” or “a lot” about the plans.
So here are some possible explanations.
The number of people favoring only minor changes to the system, while still low at 19 percent, is the highest it’s been since Hillary Clinton was trying to sell her own reform back in 1994. The number of people favoring a complete rebuild, 27 percent, has only been lower once in 18 years of polling on the question. (The choice that won a majority of support, “fundamental changes,” is so vague as to be meaningless.)
Maybe that’s because, as other polls confirm, a very large majority of Americans are satisfied with the health care they receive. And as many people are satisfied with health-care costs as are dissatisfied.
A solid majority doesn’t think Obama has explained his plans well (despite, remember, thinking that he has made plenty of speeches and appearances to talk about them). And to the degree that they do understand what he’s selling, they think he’s being overly optimistic.
And despite thinking the GOP is being more partisan than the president, two-thirds of those polled think Congress should only pass a plan that has Republican support.
Bottom line: The president and other Democrats are pushing vague, overhyped plans that need to be more bipartisan if they’re going to have Americans’ support. Until they fix those problems, they’re going to have a health-care problem with the public.