More information means more support

MORE INFORMATION MEANS MORE SUPPORT…. When evaluating public opinion on health care reform, there’s an ongoing debate about how to interpret opposition to proposals. Democrats tend to argue, persuasively, that Americans who oppose reform are basing their concerns on misinformation — too many people have seen too many misleading attack ads, and it’s driving the poll numbers down.

Republicans argue that the public understands the details of the proposal just fine, and they simply don’t like what they see. It’s not about confusion, the GOP argues; it’s about the substance and fundamental elements of the legislation.

There’s ample reason to believe the Democratic explanation is the correct one. Take the results of the latest Newsweek poll, for example.

As Democrats struggle to salvage health-care-reform legislation, a new NEWSWEEK Poll shows that while a majority of Americans say they oppose Obama’s plan, a majority actually support the key features of the legislation…. The more people know about the legislation, the more likely they are to support major components of it.

When asked about Obama’s plan (without being given any details about what the legislation includes), 49 percent opposed it and 40 percent were in favor. But after hearing key features of the legislation described, 48 percent supported the plan and 43 percent remained opposed.

Let’s not rush past that too quickly. Respondents were asked what they think about the Democratic plan, and opponents outnumbered supporters. Those respondents were then given information about what’s actually in the plan, at which point supporters outnumbered opponents.

In fact, support jumped 10 points among self-identified moderates, eight points among self-identified independents, and 10 points among women.

We’ve seen this phenomenon before. A month ago, the Kaiser Family Foundation released a report noting that while Americans were evenly divided in their feelings about the reform proposal, support for the plan grew when the public learned about the plan’s details. And this has been common for months — over the summer, in the middle of the right-wing freak-out, an NBC/WSJ poll found that 36% of Americans approved of the plan. When the plan was actually described, support jumped to 53%.

The importance of this cannot be overstated. Opposition to health care reform has been driven by lies, misinformation, confusion, and fear. But the more Americans learn the truth, the more they like what they hear.

Moving forward, then, Democratic policymakers should have a very strong incentive to finish the job and pass reform — it’s the only way to turn the polls around, kill the caricature, and reap the rewards of a historic victory.

Public opinion is not immovable; Dems just have to give success a chance.