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Public likes public option for healthcare. Joe Lieberman doesn't.

Poll results tend to show that voters approve of the public option for healthcare. But senators like Joe Lieberman could vote the other way.

By Staff writer / October 27, 2009

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill Tuesday.

Susan Walsh/AP

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The public generally supports the public option. This may be one big reason that Senate majority leader Harry Reid surprised many in Washington by including a proposal for government-run insurance – also known as the "public option" – in the Senate's version of healthcare reform legislation.

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"All the national polls show a wide majority of Americans support the public option," Senator Reid said on Monday.

Whether the public option can make it to the Senate floor, however, remains an open question. On Tuesday, some key Senate moderates said they still opposed a government-run insurance plan. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I) of Connecticut said he would support a GOP filibuster of a healthcare bill if it contained a public-option provision.

Poll results tend to back up Reid's assertion that voters approve the public option. In an Oct. 21 Gallup survey, for instance, 50 percent of respondents thought a healthcare bill should include a public, government-run insurance plan. Forty-six percent thought it should not.

But as that poll also shows, the margin in favor of the public option can be smaller than Reid asserted. Opinions on the topic are not strongly held and could be changed, some polling experts say.

"Whichever side – the proponents or opponents – gets their message to break through and become the real perception of Americans, that is who is going to win the public opinion on this topic, given how soft and malleable public opinion is," said Mollyann Brodie, director of public opinion at the Kaiser Family Foundation, at a seminar in Washington last Friday.

On Tuesday, Washington was still grappling with the aftermath of Reid's announcement that the Senate bill would include a public option, albeit one that contains a clause allowing states to opt out. For weeks, many pundits had predicted the public option's demise, since it is opposed by moderate Democrats who are crucial to the future of the healthcare reform legislation.

Some of those moderates were saying they remain concerned. Senator Lieberman, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said that he would vote against the bill if it contains a public-option provision, even one with an opt-out escape hatch.

Another key moderate, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) of Louisiana, said in a statement that she was still "very skeptical" about a government-run insurance plan and that she was still working with Reid to find a "principled compromise."