The People Speak

By Michael Fumento

National Review Online, March 26, 2010
Copyright 2010 Independent Journalism Project

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Shortly after the House approved the massive, historic health-care legislation and sent it to President Obama for his signature, the president declared the vote “proved that this government — a government of the people and by the people — still works for the people.”

That line alone merits 20,000 years in Purgatory. I trust even my non-Catholic friends will stand by me on that. Beyond this, though, there is a very important critic of Obama’s assertion out there — those same “people.”

According to Pollster.com, which tracks surveys, here are the approval rates from the last non-partisan polls conducted before the vote on the health-care legislation.

Not a single majority. In fact, Obama’s “the people” is closer to a third of the electorate. Yet these figures understate public opposition because they don’t reflect intensity. Some polls did measure it, though, including the one that seems to indicate the most support. The Economist/YouGov poll found that 48 percent approved the legislation, but of these only 16 percent “strongly supported” it, while 35 percent were “strongly opposed.”

This pattern is constant through other polls that asked such questions. Rasmussen found that 26 percent strongly favored the legislation, and 45 percent strongly opposed it. CBS found 13 percent strongly in favor, 33 percent strongly opposed.

(The day after the vote a Gallup Poll reported that 49 percent of those surveyed called the passage “a good thing,” but this is what pollsters call a “bounce,” and it’s temporary. After all, the legislation didn’t change overnight. And even the specific responses are revealing. Only 15 percent of Americans said they were “enthusiastic,” while 19 percent were downright “angry.”)

And there’s yet more behind those simple numbers. For example, a poll conducted on behalf of Independent Women’s Voice found the usual third of respondents in favor of the legislation. But only 10 percent wanted it passed “as is,” while 13 percent wanted it passed with “major changes later on” and another 13 percent with “minor changes later on.”

And while 35 percent of those in the Fox survey wanted the legislation passed, only 27 percent said “yes” when asked whether “the quality of health care for you and your family would be better” if it did so. In the Economist/YouGov poll, only 16 percent of respondents thought they’d receive better care; 36 percent thought they’d receive worse care.

Ah, but Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg — in a New York Times op-ed Tuesday that’s textbook spinning — said the trend was toward support of the legislation. “A poll that I conducted with the Democratic strategist James Carville for Democracy Corps over the past week showed a 5-point increase in the number of self-identified ’intense’ reform supporters, to 24 percent,” he claimed. All of 24 percent!

And then when he released the actual results later that day, the report admitted the increase wasn’t even statistically significant. Whoops!

Other polls didn’t find noticeable changes. Rasmussen reported its figures have barely budged in recent months, while Pew said current views are “almost identical to” those of the previous two months. The Women’s Voice poll found that new information about the legislation that respondents had received in the previous ten days had made 55 percent “less supportive” — indeed, it had made 42 percent “much less” so. The more people saw, the less they liked.

Some may take a benevolent view, believing that Obama and Congress felt that, regardless of public opinion, they had to do what they believed was right. On this reading, their concern was not “of the people” or “by the people,” but it was “for the people.” The less benevolent view is that Obama and the Democrats were starved for a legislative victory. “For the Democrats, a Win Is a Win” was the title of Greenberg’s op-ed.

This also appears to be the public’s view. CBS reported that 57 percent of respondents said the Democrats were trying to pass the bill for “mostly political reasons.”

Still, we do know that liberals sincerely believe that any increase in government power is inherently good — and, boy, is this one heck of an increase.

The problem with the benevolent view is that even members of Congress have been admitting the legislation is deeply flawed. They could have used the first go-round as a learning experience and tried again. That’s what the highly detailed Women’s Voice poll showed Americans wanted. Seventy percent “strongly agreed” they “would prefer that Congress do healthcare reform right than do it fast,” with an additional 9 percent somewhat agreeing. Exactly two-thirds “strongly agreed” that it would be better that “Congress do no healthcare reform at all than do it wrong.”

Surveys have repeatedly shown Americans believe we need health-care reform of some kind — just not this kind. A February 10 ABC News/Washington Post poll of registered voters poll found almost two-thirds of Americans think “Washington should keep trying to pass a comprehensive health care reform plan.”

Here is the crucial factor, though.

The Democrats appear to be in trouble come November. A March 10 Gallup survey of registered voters found that “Republicans would be at parity or holding a slight advantage if actual voting were to take place now,” and that “Republicans hold a significant enthusiasm advantage over Democrats at this juncture.”

“Disapproval of Congress,” notes the ABC/Post poll, “at 71 percent, matches its highest since 1994, when the GOP swept to control in a midterm rout of the Democrats.” They said, “That’s a rare level of GOP support in nearly three decades of polls.” And obviously a powerful anti-incumbent backlash inherently favors the party out of power. The importance of this to health-care legislation is that the bill passed by just seven votes — all of 50.8 percent of those voting. It got zero votes from Republicans, and there were 17 Democratic defectors.

Had the legislation been rewritten, it would absolutely have had to be bipartisan, which in and of itself is what Americans want. They are sick and tired of the partisan infighting. That means the bill would of necessity have represented a broader viewpoint more in tune with the American electorate. But that — a health-care bill truly “of the people” — could not be tolerated by Obama and the Democratic leadership.