The Health Care Debate: It’s Still A Lot Like 1994…

Pre-Labor Day and pre-Obama’s health care speech to Congress: Public Opinion Strategies brought to your attention the very close parallels between the health care debate in 1994 when the Clintons tried (and failed) to jam reform through Congress, and today as Obama tries to jam it through.

Indeed, our August data showed that public opinion of Obama’s health care plan was as bad or worse as the Clintons’ plan in 1994. In that poll we found more people were opposed to President Obama’s health care plan than at any point in 1993 or 1994. And, opposition was not just running along the usual partisan lines. Key swing voter groups, such as seniors, women, and Independents expressed the same level of opposition or more to Obama’s plan as they did to the Clintons’ plan fifteen years ago.

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Our conclusion: President Obama was starting to learn the same lesson that the Clintons learned: Too much government intervention in the health care system can alienate more voters than it attracts.

Fast forward…

Post-Labor Day and post-Obama’s health care speech to Congress: Some polls are showing a modest bump in the public’s opinion for how Obama is handling health care reform. In the ABC/Washington Post poll released today, Obama’s job approval rating on health care is 48% approve; 48% disapprove compared to 46% approve, 50% disapprove in mid-August. (Although 32% “strongly approve” while 38% still “strongly disapprove.”)

But, the ABC/Washington Post pollsters also included a very revealing question which helps illustrate our point about the public’s resistance to government involvement and continues to track the similarities between 1994 and today:

“Do you think the health care plan creates too much government involvement in the nation’s health care system, not enough government involvement, or about the right amount?”

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Our conclusion: President Obama’s speech to Congress on his proposed health care plan may have served as a rallying cry for his liberal congressional allies, but his plan itself – as these numbers demonstrate – may be a bridge too far for voters who have had to endure one government intervention after another since he took office.

Today it is abundantly clear President Obama has a decision to make. He can choose to give the voters what they want by delivering a strong reform package that would improve the health care system without incorporating the government-run plan. Or, he can choose to give his liberal base what it wants by pressing forward with yet another massive government intervention that is unpopular with the public.

We’ve seen this movie before in 1994. Will President Obama choose a new ending, or will he opt to give us a dismal sequel?

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