MIXED BAG FROM NEW POST/ABC POLL…. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll offers a lot of data on public attitudes on health care reform, with some of the results more encouraging than others. As the Post‘s article noted, opposition to Democratic proposals has “eased somewhat” and enthusiasm gap between supporters and opponents of reform “has also begun to close.”

It’s obvious which of the numbers will generate the most interest. Asked whether they support or oppose the reform plan advocated by Democrats, 46% favor the proposals, 48% do not. Those results have improved a little since August. The same poll asked respondents about their support for “having the government create a new health insurance plan to compete with private health insurance plans.” A 55% majority support the public option, which is also up slightly from August.

But there’s a catch. The poll asked, “Say health care reform does NOT include the option of a government-sponsored health plan — in that case would you support or oppose the rest of the proposed changes to the health care system being developed by (Congress) and (the Obama administration)?” At that point, support for reform goes up, from 46% to 50%. In other words, people like the public option idea, but they’ll like health care reform more if it doesn’t have the provision.

How’d this happen? Kevin Drum offers an explanation.

The answer, of course, is simple: a small number of people who oppose the plan are willing to support it if you remove the public option. At the same time, supporters of the public plan are mostly pretty luekwarm. Sure, they like the idea of a public option, but if you remove it they still support reform. Apparently, most supporters really don’t care one way or another.

I guess you can spin this whichever way you want. If you oppose the public option, this poll shows that healthcare reform does indeed have stronger support without it. But if you support the public option, this poll shows that it’s much ado about nothing: removing the option appeases only a tiny number of people. And a solid majority support the public option in the first place.

My guess is that polls like this doom the public option: removing it helps in Congress and apparently does no harm with the public. Nobody goes to the mat for an issue that plays out like that.

On a more encouraging note, Republicans have not convinced the public that government intervention in the market is necessarily evil. The poll asked, “Which comes closer to the way you feel: government reform of the nation’s health care system (is necessary to control costs and expand coverage), or government action on health care (will do more harm than good)?” A 53% support government involvement, which is up a couple of points since August.

Moreover, a 62% majority believe Republicans in Congress are not making “a good faith effort to cooperate with Obama and the Democrats on health care reform.” On the other hand, 50% believe Obama and Dems are reaching out to Republicans in good faith.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.