Support for Health Care Reform on the Rise after Massachusetts

At President Obama’s recent health care summit, Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans breathlessly touted an “average” of recent public polls showing large majorities opposing health care reform. McConnell’s polling average was dubious to begin with, but he was also getting well ahead of himself.[i] In fact, a flurry of recent polls show support for health care reform slowly but surely on the rise. A new survey from The Economist/YouGov released yesterday shows majority supporting passage of reform for the first time since December.[ii] Moreover, recent polls that dig deeper than the topline numbers demonstrate even more support for passage of reform, with the most recent Ipsos survey showing a majority of Americans either supporting the current reform option or hoping for an even stronger reform package.

Increase in Support for Reform Across the Board 

In the wake of the Massachusetts special election, public surveys showed support for health care reform declining to record lows.  Yet, in recent weeks, support for reform has started to recover in nearly every public survey and now stands almost even – 46 percent in support compared to 47 percent opposed according to’s current average of public surveys.  This is a far greater level of support than the supposed 55 to 37 percent opposition touted by McConnell.[iii]

Health Care Polls Through March 9, 2010

Ipsos Shows Majority Wants Strong Reform, Other Polls Show Public Wants Action

While the uptick in support is certainly encouraging to supporters of reform, almost all of these surveys still show at least pluralities in opposition to the current reform measure being debated.  However, when Ipsos probed further, they showed a surprising result. Of the 47 percent who oppose reform, 37 percent do so because reform does not go far enough (meanwhile, of the 41 percent who say they support the current proposals, 12 percent say they do so because they think the current proposals will stop reform from happening).  Combining these results shows a majority – 53 percent – that supports reform or something that goes further. Yet, just 35 percent want to kill reform because it goes too far.[iv]

This data is further amplified by other recent surveys showing that a wide majority continues to demand health care reform, and has no interest in Congress or the president giving up on the effort. Back in mid-February, ABC/Washington Post asked whether lawmakers in Washington should keep trying to pass a comprehensive health care reform plan or give up on it. They found that, by a two-to-one margin, Americans want Congress to push forward on passing an overarching reform bill (63 percent to 34 percent).[v] Furthermore, Pew Research had similar findings – 61 percent of all Americans either support the current reform proposals or want Congress to keep working toward a solution to achieve reform.[vi]

Public Supports Reform When They Understand What It Includes

In this recent batch of surveys, several of the polls asked about the individual components of the health care reform proposals before Congress. The findings from Kaiser Health’s tracking survey, Newsweek, and Ipsos mirror previous results from other surveys – ultimately, there is great appeal for many of the individual parts, like overarching insurance reforms, establishing an exchange to provide competition and enable easier access to health care choice, providing financial assistance to low-income individuals, and providing tax credits to small businesses. Other provisions are also exceedingly popular – Kaiser Health observes that helping close the Medicare “doughnut hole” (71 percent important), expanding high risk insurance pools to cover those with an illness (70 percent important), and even expanding Medicaid like the potential public option compromise that failed two months ago (56 percent important) all score incredibly high marks.[vii]

However, these surveys do show significant public hesitance for two particular components of reform – taxing the most high-value “Cadillac” plans (55 percent oppose according to Newsweek)[viii] and an individual mandate (60 percent oppose according to Ipsos). Despite these points of contention, these recent surveys provide evidence that the public will support reform once they understand what it really includes.  Newsweek, which asked about all of these policies – including the unpopular ones, re-asked the overall favor or oppose question for reform after describing the individual elements of the bill.  They found that a plurality – 48 percent – favored the reform package, while only 43 percent opposed – a 14-point positive shift from the initial question. Finally, Kaiser showed a similar result.  After describing the various elements of reform they asked about the electoral impact of a vote in favor or opposition of health care reform and found that 35 percent would be more likely to support a candidate who voted for the legislation, while only 24 percent would be less likely. The results were virtually reversed when asked the opposite: if a candidate opposed the bill, 35 percent would be less likely to vote for that candidate, while 26 percent would be more likely to vote for him or her.

[i] Mark Blumenthal, National Journal, “A Poll for Every Side at Health Summit.” March 1, 2010.

[ii] The Economist/YouGov, conducted 2/28-3/2, 2010 among 1000 general adult respondents. 

[iii] average shows trends from surveys released through March 9, 2010. Note that this set has been filtered to exclude Rasmussen polls, which have shown to be extreme outliers.

[iv] Ipsos/McClatchy, conducted 2/26-2/28, 2010 among 1076 adults. 

[v] ABC/Washington Post, conducted 2/4-2/8, 2010, among 1,004 adults. 

[vi] Pew Research, conducted 2/3-2/9, 2010, among 1,383 adults. 

[vii] Kaiser Health Tracking Poll: February 2010, conducted 2/11-2/16, 2010 among 1201 adults. 

[viii] Newsweek, conducted 2/17-2/18, 2010 among 1009 adults.

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