As health care reform bill advances, public support slips

More Americans oppose the health care reform bill than support it, according to two recent polls. The public also expresses confusion about the legislation, though people are more engaged on the issue than when the Clinton administration attempted health reform.

By , Staff writer

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    People opposed to the current health care bill cheer for former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee (not pictured) Sunday, during a rally in Omaha, Neb.
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Americans are watching closely the great healthcare reform debate of 2009. They are confused and worried about the health plan taking shape in Congress –but many remain hopeful about the legislative process, as well.

The voters' swirl of emotions about the issue in some ways mirrors the complexity of current healthcare legislation. In general, support for reform has declined in recent weeks, as debate in the Senate has become more heated.

The "nays" have an edge over the "yeas" in the most recent Gallup poll on the issue, for instance. Forty-eight percent of respondents in the Dec. 16 survey said they would tell their member of Congress to vote against the healthcare bill as it now stands. Forty-six percent said they would advise their lawmaker to vote for it.

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"It is possible the public will still climb on board. But as the debate has unfolded in recent months, the legislation has struggled to get even bare majority support," concludes Gallup analyst Jeffrey Jones.

In most recent poll, less support

A Quinnipiac University poll released Dec. 22 found a wider margin of disapproval, with 53 percent of respondents opposed to healthcare overhaul and 36 percent in favor.

"While the Senate leadership reportedly has the votes to pass a health care overhaul plan this week, outside the Beltway there appears to be weak support, both to what voters understand as the plan, and the need to pass that plan now," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Insitute.

If nothing else, the American public appears to be more engaged with the healthcare reform issue in 2009 than it was in 1993 and 1994, when the Clinton administration tried, and failed, to push a health plan through Congress.

Interested, yes. Informed, less so.

Healthcare has surpassed the economy as the serious news issue in which Americans are the most interested, according to a December Pew Research Center survey.

But "interest" does not necessarily equate with "understanding." The public gives low marks to media coverage of the healthcare issue and says efforts in Congress are becoming more and more difficult to follow.

Fully 69 percent of respondents to the Pew survey agreed with the statement "health reform isn't getting any easier to understand."

In general, health reform tends to be a popular subject. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll found that 54 percent of respondents said the country should take on healthcare improvements now, despite the state of the economy. Forty-one percent of voters in the KFF survey said the US can't afford now to pursue healthcare reform.

But voters are skeptical as to whether they will personally benefit from current healthcare bills. The KFF survey also found that the percentage of Americans who say they will be be better off if health reform passes fell from 42 percent in November to 35 percent in December.

"Public opinion in December looks more like it did in August, the last time this debate became so contentious," according to the Kaiser Family Foundation survey.

The KFF poll also asked which emotions voters have experienced while watching their elected leaders struggle with the healthcare issue. The most commonly cited was "hopeful," followed by "frustrated," "optimistic," "positive," and "confused."

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