Support Slipping for Obama Health Care, Times Still Sees "Strong Desire" for Reform

In its latest poll, the Times sees a "strong desire to get something done" on health control - i.e., more government control. But support has been stronger in recent years, and nothing was done. Perhaps that "strong desire" isn't so strong?

Thursday's lead story by chief political reporter Adam Nagourney and Megan Thee-Brenan dealt with the latest New York Times/CBS Poll, which revealed some significant slippage in public support for Obama's government takeover plans of health care: "New Poll Finds Growing Unease on Health Plan."

President Obama's ability to shape the debate on health care appears to be eroding as opponents aggressively portray his overhaul plan as a government takeover that could limit Americans' ability to choose their doctors and course of treatment, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

Americans are concerned that revamping the health care system would reduce the quality of their care, increase their out-of-pocket health costs and tax bills, and limit their options in choosing doctors, treatments and tests, the poll found. The percentage who describe health care costs as a serious threat to the American economy - a central argument made by Mr. Obama - has dropped over the past month.

Mr. Obama continues to benefit from strong support for the basic goal of revamping the health care system, and he is seen as far more likely than Congressional Republicans to have the best ideas to accomplish that. But reflecting a problem that has hindered efforts to bring major changes to health care for decades, Americans expressed considerable unease about what the end result would mean for them individually.

It's a pretty accurate story, but sometimes the paper misses the point in defending the general notion of health-care takeover:

Still, Mr. Obama remains the dominant figure in the debate, both because he continues to enjoy relatively high levels of public support even after seeing his approval ratings dip, and because there appears to be a strong desire to get something done: 49 percent said they supported fundamental changes, and 33 percent said the health care system needed to be completely rebuilt.

That's true, but misleading: The results in bold above say 49% of those recently polled supported fundamental changes of health care, and 33% think it should be completely rebuilt. But the actual poll (PDF file here) reveal those figures are actually down slightly from last month.

The Times has been asking that same question sporadically since 1991, and 49% is on the low side of the "fundamental changes" figure, which was as high as 59% in February 2005. The most radical solution, to "completely rebuild" the U.S. health care system, polled as high as 42% back in September 1993, compared to 33% today.

If there really is, as Nagourney says, a "strong desire to get something done" on health care, it's been stronger over the past 16 years, yet still resulted in nothing being done. Just how "strong" is it?

And the intriguing results of Question 53, suggesting people were souring on the idea of the government guaranteeing health insurance for all, weren't mentioned in the story but relegated to a sidebar chart.

53. Do you think the federal government should guarantee health insurance for all Americans, or isn't this the responsibility of the federal government?

In June, respondents favored the federal government should guarantee health insurance by 64%-30%, a ratio of over 2-1. By July that figure had fallen to 55%-38%, meaning the margin of people favoring a government guarantee had been sliced in half, from 34 points to 17.

As for who the Times talked to: The pro-Democratic spread is not as yawning as it was in last month's poll, but it's still large. Using its own mysterious brand of poll "weighting," the paper once again managed to stretch a small Democratic lead over the GOP in respondents into a 14-point chasm between Democrats and Republicans.

According to the Times boilerplate, the poll weighting is done "to adjust for variation in the sample related to geographic region, sex, race, Hispanic origin, marital status, age and education," as well as land-line and cell-phone access.

This time around,according to theCBS version of the poll , which helpfully broke out the "unweighted" figures, the weighting transformed a modest eight-point gap of party identification of respondents (32% Democrats vs. 24% Republicans) into a fourteen-point spread (34% Democrats vs. 20% Republicans). Weighting is standard polling practice, but the Times version has certainly favored Democratic respondents of late.