With Republicans beating the drums incessantly for the proposition that "the American people have rejected health care reform," it's probably not a bad time to recall the discussion that broke out late last year over evidence that many people saying they oppose specific proposals do so because they want to take reform much farther.
Exhibit A was an Ipsos-McClatchey poll taken in November. Here was Nate Silver's take on it:
Ipsos/McClatchy put out a health care poll two weeks ago. The topline results were nothing special: 34 percent favored "the health care reform proposals presently being discussed", versus 46 percent opposed, and 20 percent undecided. The negative-12 net score is roughly in line with the average of other polls, although the Ipsos poll shows a higher number of undecideds than most others.
Ipsos, however, did something that no other pollster has done. They asked the people who opposed the bill why they opposed it: because they are opposed to health care reform and thought the bill went too far? Or because they support health care reform but thought the bill didn't go far enough?
It turns out that a significant minority of about 25 percent of the people who opposed the plan -- or about 12 of the overall sample -- did so from the left; they thought the plan didn't go far enough.
Well, Ipsos-McClatchey is back with another poll, and it's shows an even stronger percentage of reform "opponents" thinking current bills don't go far enough: more than a third of the 47% of respondents opposing "the reforms being discussed" say it's because "they don't go far enough." Added to the 41% of respondents who say they support "the reforms being discussed," that's a pretty significant majority favoring strong government action to reform the health care system.
If that's right, then maybe a majority of Americans technically favor a "no" vote on health care reform. But it's not at all clear that they'll be any happier with a perpetuation of the status quo, much less the kind of "reforms" Republicans are talking about. It looks like a significant share of the public wants something with a strong public option, or perhaps a full-blown single-payer system. It's disengenuous to pretend these are people who have linked arms with Rush Limbaugh and congressional Republican leaders to fight against serious reform.
Bill Galston's correct: Democrats should do what's right on health reform regardless of the polls. But if they do, it's worth noting that they really aren't necessarily sailing into the wind of public opinion.