Early this week, word began filtering down from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) that all semblance of the public option (opt-out, trigger, and even the Medicare buy-in that would have been limited to 55-64 year-olds) would be dropped from the Senate's health care reform bill.
The new NBC-Wall St. Journal poll was in the field December 11-14, during which rumblings of the reform bill being trimmed to accommodate Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) emanated out of the nation's capital. Thus, the poll was able to gauge respondents' (anticipatory) reactions to changes associated with the public option. Of particular interest is the following item (with preface):
As health care legislation is being debated in Congress, some changes to the legislation are being proposed. I am going to read you some of these proposed changes, and for each one, please tell me whether that proposed change is acceptable to you or not acceptable to you.
The proposed legislation would no longer create a public health care plan administered by the federal government to compete directly with private health insurance companies.
Respondents saying "not acceptable" (45%) outnumbered those saying "acceptable" (42%). We cannot, of course, determine causation from correlational data, but there at least seems to be a plausible case from the NBC-WSJ poll that the Democrats' jettisoning of the public option and related proposals has harmed overall support levels for the bill. Now, just 32% of respondents say the Obama health care plan is a "good idea" (vs. 47% calling it a "bad idea"); in October, the last time this question was asked, 38% said the plan was a good idea. Also, 44% percent said it was better "to not pass this plan and keep the current health care system," compared to 41% favoring passage. The two previous times this item had been asked (in October and September), passage was preferred by identical 45-39 margins.
Not all recent polls are so pessimistic for the Obama/Democratic health bills, however. A Gallup poll in the field December 11-13 found nearly a dead heat, with 46% of respondents saying they would advise their representatives in Congress to vote for the bill and 48% saying they would advise against.