GOP STILL FAILING TO CAPITALIZE…. Plenty to chew on in the new WaPo/ABC poll.

As the Senate prepares to take up legislation aimed at overhauling the nation’s health-care system, President Obama and the Democrats are still struggling to win the battle for public opinion. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows Americans deeply divided over the proposals under consideration and majorities predicting higher costs ahead.

But Republican opponents have done little better in rallying the public opposition to kill the reform effort. Americans continue to support key elements of the legislation, including a mandate that employers provide health insurance to their workers and access to a government-sponsored insurance plan for those people without insurance.

Looking through the internals, there are some interesting angles to keep an eye on.

* Reform: Asked for their “overall” impressions of the health care debate, 48% support the reform plan, 49% oppose it. That’s a pretty even split, though it’s worth noting that 48% support is the highest it’s been in several months — there’s a clear division, but it’s not getting worse for reform advocates.

* Reform specifics: While the public is evenly divided on the larger bill, a 53% majority still supports a public option; a 66% majority supports an employer mandate; and a 56% majority supports subsidized health plans that cover abortion procedures, so long as there’s a division between premiums and taxpayer money.

* President Obama: The president’s level of support is showing some durability, despite the difficult times. His job approval rating is 56%, one point lower than October, but two points higher than September. His personal favorable rating is even higher, at 61%.

* Republican Party: The GOP is still failing badly to capitalize on the changing landscape. When respondents were asked who they trust to handle the nation’s challenges, Republicans trailed Democrats by 16 points, 47% to 31%. The margin is similar when it came to GOP vs. the president on issues like the economy and health care. Just as important, Democrats enjoy a 10-point lead on which party “better represents your own personal values,” and a 15-point on which party is “more concerned with the needs of people like you.”

* Party of No: Respondents were asked, “Do you think leaders of the Republican Party are mainly presenting alternatives to Obama’s proposals, or mainly criticizing Obama’s proposals without presenting alternatives?” A 61% majority said the GOP is just criticizing.

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Steve Benen

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.