MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Pollster Stanley Greenberg is having a disturbing sense of deja vu. The issue is health care. Greenberg was a pollster for the Clinton White House. He surveyed public opinion on health care reform back in the early 90s before the Clinton plan went down in flames. Now Greenberg has gone back to the public for a new round of independent research, asking the same questions he asked some 15 years ago. And he joins us in the studio to talk about what he's found. Stan Greenberg, you write in The New Republic that your head is throbbing. Why is your head throbbing?
Mr. STANLEY GREENBERG (Chairman and CEO, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research): And it's still throbbing because the deja vu won't go away. Health care reform is the hardest thing to do. And it's painful because the country is desperate for it to happen. People know they want this change. But they know that, you know, if it's not done right, they pay a price. Therefore, you know, the president and the administration has to make its case in a special way that, one, reassures them, but also tells them it's the right kind of change.
BLOCK: Well, what were some of the questions you were asking where you found that the answers you are getting were virtually identical to what you'd found 15 years ago?
Mr. GREENBERG: Well, we found almost 60 percent who were dissatisfied with the system, but also three-quarters who were satisfied with their own insurance. So, that's a, you know, a starting point - is you have people conflicted between their sense that the macro system is unacceptable, but the micro system can be livable.
BLOCK: And that hasn't changed.
Mr. GREENBERG: That hasn't changed. That makes them risk averse. They want to change, but they want to make sure it's the right kind of change.
BLOCK: It sounds like from reading your piece in The New Republic that the danger here would be getting lulled into a false sense of security: the poll numbers look great, people want health care reform, you're looking back at the experience 15 years ago and saying not so fast.
Mr. GREENBERG: You know, I think that's exactly right. You know, you look at the three-quarters in almost all surveys who say they want major reform and if you look at that and say: well, how can you not do this? There seems to be so much momentum. It was so central to what the president ran on - it was for President Clinton - is for President Obama. And yet, I went through each number one by one and I said, oh my God, we're in the same place.
BLOCK: You know, you do hear this from the Obama administration, that things are different now, that lessons have been learned from what happened in the Clinton White House with health care reform, that there's much more unity and motivation for people to come together and that they're letting Congress take the lead, not this sort of secret, opaque procedure that happened in the Clinton years. Do you think that that's the case and then the polling that you've done, does that seem to back that up?
Mr. GREENBERG: Well, I think it's absolutely true. You know, up to this point, I think it's true, that is we, you know - the Clinton health care plan was devised within the White House. It never passed any committees of the - full committees of the Congress and it was a long, you know, a very long process. That's not what we are. Democrats are much more united in general, but also on health care, reform is moving. It's moving, you know, faster. It's better than the President is not mired in those, you know, specifics. But, we're also at, I think, at a different moment now. I think we've crossed the point where the public has said okay, we now want to see the details.
BLOCK: Given your hard won experience in the Clinton years on health care, what do you think the lessons are that the Obama administration should be mindful of here?
Mr. GREENBERG: You have to respect people. You have to respect that they are making rational judgments when they are cautious about reform. They want reform, but their reasons for being cautious are real. And therefore, you need to respect them and give them information that they need to make about how this will, you know, impact them. And that means becoming both a teacher at a big level on why the country has to make the change, but also a teacher at a micro level on, you know, how health exchanges will, you know, bring lower, you know, costs - how that competition will bring lower costs.
How preventive care and wellness brings lower cost. The president has got to go to the people with that kind of a conversation and I think the country is ready to listen to it.
BLOCK: Stan Greenberg, thanks for coming in.
Mr. GREENBERG: Thank you for having me.
BLOCK: Stan Greenberg runs the polling and strategic consulting farm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. His article in The New Republic is called "Repeat the Question: Why Health Care Reform Could Fail Again."
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.