A hard perception to break, redux

A HARD PERCEPTION TO BREAK, REDUX…. The latest New York Times/CBS News poll offers quite a bit of discouraging news for Republicans hoping to defeat health care reform and undermine the Obama presidency. There’s just one catch.

President Obama’s approval rating remains quite strong at 56%, and his handling of health care has improved seven points since August. Nearly two-thirds of the country (65%) would like to see a public option as part of health care reform, which is up five points over the last month.

While the numbers for Democrats aren’t as strong as they were, Republicans haven’t been able to capitalize at all. For example, most respondents maintain a favorable impression of Democrats (47% favorable, 41% unfavorable), while the GOP fares far worse (30% favorable, 57% unfavorable). Asked who can be trusted to make the right decisions, President Obama’s lead over congressional Republicans is nearly two to one (53% to 27%).

More than three out of four believe Republicans have not explained what they would do to improve the system, and while a clear majority believes President Obama has tried to work with the GOP, a clear majority believes the GOP has not done the same with the White House. What’s more, 64% believe Republicans are fighting against health care reform for purely political reasons, not because of principle.

So, what’s the catch? Americans don’t like and don’t trust the GOP, but they want to see Democrats work with them anyway.

The poll finds that an overwhelming majority of 64% think Republicans are opposing Obama’s health care plans mostly for political reasons. But it also finds that an equally large number, 65%, say Democrats shouldn’t pass a bill without Republicans — even if they think it’s right for the country — and should instead compromise to win over some GOPers.

This shows, I think, that Democrats have convinced the public that the GOP wants Obama and Dems to fail at all costs. But they’ve failed to make the case to the public that GOP obstructionism may leave them no choice but to go it alone in order to realize reform.

This is the third major national poll to find the same result on this in the last couple of weeks.

It continues to put the majority in 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.