If senators are worried about the polls…

IF SENATORS ARE WORRIED ABOUT THE POLLS…. Ideally, it’d be preferable if senators took the same attitude as Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and put the public’s needs above possible political considerations. But that’s not how the game is usually played — in the health care fight, policymakers are keeping an eye on the polls.

With that in mind, here’s an interesting one for lawmakers to review.

A new national survey from Public Policy Polling (D) finds that health care has put the Democrats in a tricky situation — passing a bill with a public option doesn’t offer a clear political benefit, but not passing anything would cause an even greater problem.

The Democrats lead on an initial generic Congressional ballot by 46%-38%. If they pass a health care with a public option, the gap becomes 46%-41%. If they don’t pass a health care bill at all, though, it becomes a 40%-40% tie — reminiscent of the loss in Democratic support in 1994, after they failed to pass a health care bill.

“Clearly Democrats need to pass a health care bill if they want to do well at the polls next year,” said PPP president Dean Debnam, in the polling memo. “But they don’t need to take an all or nothing approach. Allowing the status quo to remain rather than accepting a bill without a public option would be a poor decision politically.”

Those aren’t entirely the expected results. Given the general popularity of the public option, I would have liked to see the generic ballot numbers improve for Democrats in the scenario in which reform passes with a public option.

Nevertheless, Dems have to realize that failure would be devastating, not only to the tens of millions of Americans counting on reform becoming law, but electorally for the party that promised to deliver on its top domestic priority. The public is largely split on the merits of the initiative, but if the whole effort implodes, Dems lose with everyone.

This seems especially true for “red”-state Democrats who are worried about re-election. If Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), for example, thinks she’s likely to face headwinds next year, she should imagine those same conditions after having killed health care reform.

The surest way for Democrats to improve their political standing is to pass a good reform bill.