New Polls Show Solid Support for ‘Public Option,’ Solid Opposition to GOP

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EDT Thursday, October 22, 2009)

By SKEETER SANDERS

Republicans on Capitol Hill who are fighting to prevent the Democrats’ proposals for health-care reform, particularly the so-called “public option,” from becoming law are finding themselves on the outs with public opinion –again. At least three new polls show that the public strongly disapproves of the GOP’s performance in the health-care debate.

A new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that support for a government-run health-care plan to compete with private insurers has bounced back from losses incurred over the summer and now stands at a solid 57 percent majority. Forty percent are opposed.

Meanwhile, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows a nearly two-thirds majority disapproves of how congressional Republicans are handling the issue of health care overhaul, while just 21 percent said they approve.

The poll also found that nearly four times as many Americans would blame the GOP than would blame the Democrats if Congress fails to pass health-care reform.

More alarming for Republicans in the long run, the Washington Post/ABC News poll found that fewer Americans now identify themselves as Republicans than at any time since 1983, with Republicans now comprising only 20 percent of the electorate.

The findings represent a seven-point drop in voter identification with the GOP since a similar poll released 20 months ago by the Pew Center for the People and the Press.

The Post/ABC poll found that a staggering 79 percent of Americans expressed a lack of confidence in the GOP’s ability to make the right decisions for the future of the nation, while just 19 percent expressed full confidence in the the Republicans.

Among independent voters — without whom neither party can win the White House or a congressional majority — Republicans fare even worse, with more than four out of every five independents voicing no confidence in the GOP.

INSURANCE MANDATE WITH ‘PUBLIC OPTION’ POPULAR, BUT SPLITS REMAIN ON OTHER PLANS

Support for a “public option” is running particularly strong among two voting blocs the GOP has been targeting for weeks in their drive to defeat it: Independents and seniors, with the poll showing the option drawing particularly strong support if it is administered by the states, rather than by the federal government, and if it is targeted specifically to Americans who can’t afford private health insurance.

Under those two circumstances, support for a “public option” soars to 76 percent — with even 56 percent of Republicans in favor.

Despite what appears to be solid support for the “public option” and for a proposal to make health insurance mandatory for all Americans, the public remains sharply divided about the five health-care reform bills now pending in Congress, according to the Post/ABC poll, reflecting a sharply partisan split over what President Obama has called his top legislative priority.

The Post/ABC News poll found that the bills have 45 percent support, while 48 percent oppose them, roughly unchanged from a previous poll released in August. The partisan divide over the bills is both predictable and stark: Over 70 percent of Democrats support the plans, while nearly 90 percent of Republicans oppose it. Independents have more mixed feelings about the plan, with 42 percent in favor and 52 percent opposed.

LIBERALS ADAMANT: NO REFORM WITHOUT ‘PUBLIC OPTION’

However, the proportion of Democrats in favor of the plan is down from 46 percent recorded in September, perhaps reflecting a growing impatience among liberals with President Obama over the “public option.”

Liberal Democrats — particularly in the House — have made it clear that they won’t accept any final health-care reform bill that does not contain a “public option” — which is fiercely opposed by Republicans and conservative Senate Democrats. The new poll numbers are likely to harden the liberals’ resolve.

That impatience among liberals is also being reflected in Obama’s job-approval ratings among his fellow Democrats on the health-care reform issue. The Post/ABC News poll found that the president’s rating fell among his fellow Democrats by 15 points from a high of 85 percent last month.

GOP’S RATINGS ON HEALTH CARE REMAIN DISMAL . . .

Evan as the president and Capitol Hill Democrats continue to struggle on a final health-care reform bill, their Republican rivals are faring very poorly on the issue, with a solid 65 percent majority in the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll disapproving of the GOP’s handling of the health-care issue. Only 21 percent approve.

The new numbers show a three-percentage-point worsening of the public’s disapproval of the Republicans’ handling of the health-care reform issue since September, when 62 percent disapproved. The percentage who approved remained unchanged.

More ominous for the GOP, the Journal/NBC News poll found that if Congress fails to pass health-care reform, nearly four times as many Americans would hold congressional Republicans responsible for the reform plan’s failure (37 percent) than they would the president (10 percent) or congressional Democrats (16 percent).

Twenty-three percent would blame both parties.

The GOP’s poor marks on health care come against the backdrop of even more dismal public confidence in the Republicans’ overall ability to make the right decisions for the future of the country.

Less than a fifth of Americans in the Post/ABC News poll have confidence in the GOP to lead the country, while a overwhelming 79 percent expressed no confidence.

Less than one in five voters (19 percent) expressed confidence in Republicans’ ability to make the right decisions for America’s future while a whopping 79 percent lacked that confidence.

Among the all-important independent voters — who now outnumber both Republicans and Democrats and who voted strongly for the Democrats in the last two election cycles — confidence in the GOP stands at a record-low 17 percent, while a record-high 83 percent of independents voiced no confidence in the Republicans.

By comparison, the president’s own confidence ratings aren’t all that impressive either — Only 49 percent expressed confidence in Obama, while 50 percent voiced a lack of confidence in him. But as weak as public confidence in the president is, it’s still far greater than that of the GOP.

. . . . . . AND ITS VOTER BASE CONTINUES TO SHRINK

As bad at the GOP’s standing is now, the party’s long-term future is looking increasingly bleak, as the percentage of the electorate that identifies with the Republicans continues to erode. Only 20 percent of Americans in the Post/ABC News poll now identify themselves as Republicans — the lowest GOP party affiliation in a quarter-century.

The new findings continue a trend that was noted more than a year and a half ago by the Pew Center, whose poll in March 2008 found that identification with the GOP had fallen to 27 percent of the electorate, while Democrats and independents increased to a 36 percent tie.

A look at voters’ ideological leanings is telling. Significantly, the bulk of the GOP’s losses is among moderates and traditional conservatives who have become increasingly alarmed by what they see as a dangerous turn by the party to the far-right fringe and have moved into the independents’ column.

Independents now comprise a 42 percent plurality of the electorate, with Democrats making up 33 percent. There are now enough independents to create a third major political party if they so chose.

And a new party is not beyond the realm of possibility. Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot may have been 20 years ahead of his time when he founded his short-lived Reform Party — with its appeal to voters disenchanted by the liberal leanings of the Democrats and the conservative tilt of the Republicans — in 1997.

It’s happened before at least once in the nation’s history: The Republicans, founded in 1854 as an anti-slavery party, itself eventually replaced a moribund political party — the Whigs — in the 1870s after the Civil War.

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Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.

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