About that CNN poll

ABOUT THAT CNN POLL…. It’s likely that much of the polling on health care reform is going to change. As the policy, instead of the process, takes center stage, and the nature of a historic victory creates a new narrative, public attitudes will be subject to change.

But in the meantime, CNN has released its latest pre-vote survey. At face value, the results are a mixed bag for Democrats.

On the one hand, the public still doesn’t trust Republicans. Asked who they trust more to handle changes to the health system, respondents preferred President Obama to congressional Republicans, 51% to 39%. Asked which party respondents trust more, the results were closer, but Dems still edge the GOP, 45% to 39%.

But that headline still reads, “CNN poll: Americans don’t like health care bill.”

A majority of Americans have a dim view of the sweeping health care bill passed by the House, saying it gives Washington too much clout and won’t do much to reduce their own health care costs or federal deficits, according to a new poll released Monday.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll found that 59 percent of those surveyed opposed the bill, and 39 percent favored it.

But as we’ve been talking about for a year, the nature of the opposition counts.

In this case, the follow-up question asked, “Do you oppose that legislation because you think its approach toward health care is too liberal, or because you think it is not liberal enough?” Looked at this way, 39% support the bill, 43% oppose it, and 13% want the legislation to be more liberal.

So, when CNN tells you 59% oppose the Democratic proposal, this is not to say that 59% have bought into the right-wing demagoguery and think Republican criticisms have merit. On the contrary, one could look at the same results and say that a 52% majority either support the Democratic plan or want it to be even more ambitious in a liberal direction.

This is not to say that public attitudes are entirely accurate; they’re not. Much of the country is still deeply confused about the plan and what it hopes to accomplish. A 70% majority, for example, said they expect reform to increase the deficit, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

But Republicans assume that voter attitudes on health care are on their side. If this poll is any indication, the GOP is misreading the opinion landscape. For a party that has suddenly decided that public opinion polls are the single most important factor in shaping public policy, Republican officials really should take a closer look at what they’re citing.