A hard perception to break

A HARD PERCEPTION TO BREAK…. We talked earlier about the new Washington Post-ABC News poll, which largely focuses on health care. Greg Sargent does a nice job highlighting the ways in which the data points to possible trouble for Republicans. Greg noted that the poll finds:

* That Dems hold an overwhelming 20-point lead on which party is most trusted on major issues, with Obama preferred over Republicans by 12 points on health care.

* That a majority, 53%, agrees that “government reform of the nation’s health care system is necessary to control costs and expand coverage,” underscoring yet again that the public wants government action.

* That a plurality now believes reform won’t prevent people from keeping their own health care, suggesting the public may see reform as less and less threatening.

* That a big majority, or 62%, believe Republicans have not made a good faith effort to cooperate with Dems on health care.

All true. For all the pounding President Obama has taken in recent weeks, his approval rating is still at 54% in the new poll, and he enjoys sizable leads over congressional Republicans, not only on health care, but also on the economy and deficit reduction. The president’s support was not where it was a few months ago, but we’re not looking at a landscape in which the GOP has caught up. Indeed, while much of the public has been affected by Republican attacks against health care, Americans don’t see the GOP acting in good faith.

That said, there is one data point in the poll that’s especially disconcerting. Respondents were asked, “Do you think Obama and the Democrats in Congress should try to change the health care reform bill so some Republicans in Congress will also support it, or should they try to pass health care reform without Republican support?”

Only one in four (25%) said Dems should go ahead and pass reform whether Republicans like it or not, while 71% said the majority should change the bill to garner GOP votes. Last week, an AP/GfK poll asked a similar question and found a similar result.

It creates an awkward situation. Americans don’t trust GOP lawmakers on the issue, and don’t think Republicans have been acting in good faith, but the public can’t quite shake the impression that good bills are “bipartisan” bills, and that legislative consensus may actually be more important than legislative quality.

My only advice to the governing majority? Ignore this. Americans are, for whatever reasons, predisposed to support bipartisan lawmaking. But this is an impossible task — Republicans don’t support reform and aren’t willing to make concessions. If Dems make the bill worse, on purpose, just to pick up a few GOP votes, it’s likely voters will be far less satisfied with reform when it’s implemented.

Pass a good bill and let the policy speak for itself.