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Poll Reveals Change Of Heart On Health Care

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Poll Reveals Change Of Heart On Health Care

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Poll Reveals Change Of Heart On Health Care

Poll Reveals Change Of Heart On Health Care

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A clear majority of Americans now support a government-run health care plan that would be allowed to compete with private insurers, also known as the public option, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News Poll. The news is a surprising shift from the low approval ratings the same option received just months ago. Washington Post Poll Director Jon Cohen explains the findings and the factors behind Americans' change of heart.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

What's behind a change of heart on health care. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that a clear majority of Americans now support a government-run health care plan that would be allowed to compete with the private insurers, the so-called public option. A sizeable majority also now support a mandate that would require all Americans to carry health insurance.

Both those opinions are a change from last summer, when the public option in particular seemed to be a nonstarter. We wondered how this new information is affecting the debate on Capitol Hill. For that discussion, we're going to go to Illinois Senator Roland Burris, who has vowed not to support any bill without a public option, that conversation in just a few minutes.

But first, we want to dig into the numbers with Washington Post polling director Jon Cohen. He wrote about the new poll earlier this week. He's with us now. Welcome, thanks for coming.

Mr. JON COHEN (Polling Director, Washington Post): Thank you so much for having me.

MARTIN: Jon, walk us through the numbers. Exactly what percentage of Americans now support the public option, and how has that changed over time?

Mr. COHEN: We asked a specific question, and as we can talk about so much of the public opinion on this depends on exactly how you ask the question and the messaging behind this. We asked, you know, would you support or oppose having the government create a new health insurance plans compete with private health insurance plans. Fifty-seven percent in our new polls support that idea, 40 percent oppose.

That's a rebound, a slight but significant rebound, from August during those fiery town hall debates when there was so much pressure on Democratic legislators, and specifically about health care reform. Now, when we started - we first asked this question back in the House halcyon days of June, before this battle really got started, 62 percent supported that time. That fell all the way to 52 percent in those hot days of August, and they've been climbing up ever since. And so, we now have clear majority support for this version of a public option at a really critical time.

MARTIN: I appreciate your pointing out that this is in fact a rebound from last summer. So, has this shift taken place among certain groups, and not others, or is it across the board?

Mr. COHEN: Part of the reason we highlighted this shift as small as it was numerically, in part, because it comes at such a critical time when the public option has been under scrutiny for months, and the White House has actually backed away from it a little bit in terms of calling it a critical portion of care. But also, because of this shift among key groups, independents that, you know, group of voters that both parties are so after and looking forward to 2010 in terms of appealing to those people in the middle, they shifted. And so now a clear majority of independents support the idea of a public option, and seniors…

MARTIN: And seniors.

Mr. COHEN: …who have been overwhelmingly negative about the health care reform have tilted more positive just in the past month alone.

MARTIN: What do you think is behind it?

Mr. COHEN: A lot of things. And I think as I mentioned at the outset, a lot of this has to do with the messaging, and the discussion on Capitol Hill about making a public option, be it state-run or have it limited to people who can't find affordable options on the private market may be holding sway.

In fact, when we asked a follow up question about what if the new government plan were state-run and limited to people who can't find affordable options, at least several affordable options, on the private market? Support for public option actually soars to 76 percent.

MARTIN: Now, I'm going to have this conversation with Senator Burris in just a few minutes, but I'd like to get your perspective on how this change in public attitudes is affecting the environment on Capitol Hill?

Mr. COHEN: Well, it's so interesting because, you know, we talked about specific pillars of the reform, potentially the public option and the individual mandate that you mentioned at the outset that is the part of all of the bills floating(ph) their way Capitol Hill. And, you know, those are the two pillars. but if you look at the overall kind of environment for reform, you still have a very evenly divided public about whether they support the entire package of proposals.

So, the challenge is still steep, but these two particular items are popular at a time when the people in Capitol Hill are trying to figure out exactly what to include in these bills.

MARTIN: And just very, very briefly, if you would, so much attention last week on Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, who cast the sole Republican vote in the Senate Finance Committee for a bill crafted by Max Baucus, which doesn't have the public option. Are Republicans moving toward a different perspective on the public option in your poll?

Mr. COHEN: Well, what's interesting in that follow-up question I asked about a more limited public option, actually 56 percent of Republicans support that idea. So that's a large number and something that Republicans on Capitol Hill to grapple with.

MARTIN: That was Jon Cohen. He's the polling director for the Washington Post. He was kind enough to join us from the studios in the Post newsroom. If you want to read the article that he wrote with Dan Balz talking about this data, we'll have a link on our Web Site at npr.org. Go to programs and click on TELL ME MORE. Jon Cohen, thanks so much for speaking with us.

Mr. JON COHEN: Thank you.

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