What that Post/ABC poll does (and does not) say

WHAT THAT POST/ABC POLL DOES (AND DOES NOT) SAY…. I stopped by the Yahoo News page a few minutes ago and saw the lead headline at the top of the page that reads, “Public support slips for Obama’s health plan, poll shows.” It quoted a Reuters report that says:

Public support for President Barack Obama’s handling of healthcare reform, the pillar of his legislative agenda, has fallen below 50 percent for the first time, a Washington Post-ABC News poll released on Monday said.

I realize the current media narrative is “public turns on health care reform,” but let’s clarify this a bit, because it’s nearly as misleading as the political attacks that have weakened support for reform in the first place.

The Post-ABC poll asked Americans if they approve of President Obama’s handling of various issues. While he enjoys majority support in some areas, 49% approve of his handling of health care, 44% do not.

But that doesn’t necessarily reflect opposition to “Obama’s health plan.” Maybe the president’s support on this issue has fallen to 49% because some Americans are disappointed Obama hasn’t already pushed the bill through Congress. Maybe they don’t like the way he’s empowered lawmakers to take the lead in writing the bill. Who knows? The poll doesn’t really tell us.

The poll does, however, tell us a few relevant details. For example, when given a choice on who Americans trust more on reforming the health care system, 54% prefer the president, while only 34% back congressional Republicans.

Even more important, when the basics of the plan are described to respondents, including Republican-friendly phrasing (“government-run”), a majority of Americans support the reform proposal. This was left out of the Reuters report altogether.

In an article about poll support for “Obama’s health plan,” Reuters ignored the only question in the poll about support for Obama’s health plan. Odd.