THE BASIS FOR HEALTH CARE REFORM CRITICISM…. In February and March, when the fate of health care reform was very much in doubt, many Democrats had to consider a political calculation: would legislative success make the policy more popular?

One can only speculate about the effects of failure — though I find it hard to imagine reform or its proponents gaining in popularity in the wake of the bill dying — but it’s safe to say those predicting improved poll numbers were mistaken. The expensive conservative crusade to make reform unpopular worked — the public doesn’t know what’s in the bill, exactly, and Americans find the whole thing confusing, but they’re pretty sure they’re unhappy with the results.

Politically, this leads many to assume the American mainstream agrees with the right about the size and scope of the Affordable Care Act. We’re occasionally reminded that there’s ample reason to question the conventional wisdom.

A new AP poll finds that Americans who think the law should have done more outnumber those who think the government should stay out of health care by 2-to-1. […]

The poll found that about four in 10 adults think the new law did not go far enough to change the health care system, regardless of whether they support the law, oppose it or remain neutral. On the other side, about one in five say they oppose the law because they think the federal government should not be involved in health care at all.

Obviously there are plenty of confused folks who’ve bought into nonsense. The AP talked with some guy in Arizona who’s convinced health care reform is “a Trojan horse” for a “communist, socialist scheme.” It’s likely many Fox News viewers have reached the same foolish conclusion.

But what matters here is how limited the right-wing attitudes are. Indeed, the results are striking in challenging assumptions about how the public perceives the entire reform initiative. The usual complaints about “a government takeover” aren’t just at odds with reality; they’re also at odds with what Americans are actually worried about.

This is particularly important when it comes to the Republican campaign to kill the new law in 2011. The GOP looks at the polls and assumes the party has the public’s backing on health care policy, but they’re mistaken — the vast majority of Americans didn’t like the pre-reform status quo and consider Republican “reform” plans wholly inadequate.

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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.