Tuesday, October 20, 2009

U.S.A. : Not Homogeneous

Supporters of the public option in health care reform are legitimately happy to be able to trumpet the results of the new WaPo poll, including the Greg Sargent question (showing that a slim majority prefers a Democrats-only bill with a public option to a bipartisan bill without).

However...a little common sense is in order, here. Publius reads far too much into the Post's numbers:

The "good" reasons for opposing the public option is simply the fear that voters will punish them. Polls like this, however, should go a long way is softening this type of skepticism.

The "bad" reasons, however, for opposing the public option is simply to protect rich insurance companies...It's not going to work anymore to say things like "the public option is not politically possible." Today's poll shows otherwise.

Accordingly, we should assume from this point on that any continued opposition by Democrats is essentially prostitution on behalf of insurance companies.

This would be mostly true (there's a third possibility -- that a pol is voting his or her true beliefs, regardless of any external incentives, but I'll leave it aside), if the numbers in fact demonstrated an overwhelming support for a public option.

They do not. The WaPo's national sample favors a pubic option by a 57/40% margin. That's enough, as I said, for supporters to trumpet the results as a solid majority for public option -- nationally. It's hardly a stretch, however, to guess that the public option is no better than break-even in Nebraska, Louisiana, Arkansas, North Dakota, and Montana. And that's going to be the relevant question for the relevant Senators.

In fact, Greg Sargent's question vindicates those Senators' search for Republican cover, rather than undermining it. WaPo reports a 51/37% advantage for a Democrats-only public option; again, those are national numbers, putting Democrats-only under 50% for marginal Senators. Moreover, only 76% of bill supporters would prefer a Democrats-only bill with a public plan to a bipartisan bill without a public plan (18% of bill supporters choose the latter, with the rest unaccounted for). So between a fifth and a quarter of bill supporters prefer bipartisanship. Given the slim plurality (in marginal states) who support reform in the first place, losing such a large chunk is a dangerous situation indeed for Senators worried about reelection. No wonder they're scrambling around looking for any hints of bipartisan support they can find.

It would be fair for public option supporters to accuse worried Senators of excessive caution; one can certainly make an argument that, given the balanced numbers even marginal states, it's unlikely that a vote for a public option (or for a bill with a public option, or for cloture on a bill with a public option even without supporting the final bill) isn't going to cost anyone a seat. It is not fair at all to entirely dismiss electoral concerns. The numbers just don't support that conclusion.

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