No Clear Political Winner On Health Reform, New Poll Finds

Republicans seem to think that stopping health care reform will improve their chances in the 2010 elections. At the same time, Democrats say that finally passing comprehensive reform will show the voters that they’re the change party they promised they would be, boosting their chances at holding on to their majorities in the House and Senate.

But a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that both sides are wrong…and right. There doesn’t seem to be clear a political win — or loss — for either side yet, though arguably opinion appears to be tilting slightly in favor of the Democrats.

Oh, and there’s more: even after a year of slogging through the health care fight, most Americans still want reform — and soon.Democrats have told progressive critics of the reform bill that passing what’s on the table is better than leaving the current system in place. It’s likely that will be the message Democrats run on in the fall if they pass the bill — we did what we could, they’ll say, and what we did was better than leaving things as they were.

The NBC/WSJ poll shows about half of the public (46%) agrees with them. That’s up from 41% in December’s NBC/WSJ poll, but it still shows that the public isn’t sold on the Democratic argument. Twenty-eight percent of voters say that they would be “more likely” to vote to reelect their member of Congress if he or she voted with the Democrats in favor of the bill, while 36% say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate that cast a reform vote with the Democrats. But just about the same amount, 34%, say it wouldn’t make a difference either way.

Another national poll out today from Public Policy Polling (D), confirms the slight uptick in support for the reform package, but shows that there’s still a deep divide among Americans over the plan — and more still oppose the plan than support it.

The current TPM Poll Average for health care reform shows 48.2% oppose it, while 42.9% support the Democratic package.

That should be good news for Republicans, who have argued that leaving the system as it is would be better than passing what they call a reform package that is too big, too unwieldy and too expensive. The NBC/WSJ poll shows that just about half — 45% — agree with that take. That’s something of a victory for the GOP (in the NBC/WSJ polls, taken in the fall of last year, 39% agreed that it would be better to leave the current system in place) but it still shows that a Republican is about as likely to cast a vote the public doesn’t like on health care reform this week as a Democrat is.

Thirty-one percent of respondents said they’d be more likely to vote for a candidate that votes with the Republicans against reform in November. But, just as the poll shows on the Democratic side, just about an equal number (34%) say a no vote would make them less likely to vote for a candidate or that it wouldn’t make any difference at all.

Voters are also split about repealing the bill should it pass, another key Republican talking point. Thirty-seven percent said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate that supports repealing the current health care bill if it passes, while 33% said they would be less likely to vote for that candidate. Twenty-nine percent said calling for a repeal would make no difference.

The like Democratic talking points about Republican obstructionism on health care reform don’t appear to be a winner either. Twenty-five percent blame Republicans for the breakdown and 18% blame the Democrats, which would be a good sign for the Democrats if the poll didn’t also find 54% believe the failure to pass a health care bill until now is the responsibility of both parties.

There’s a bright spot for Democrats though — the poll suggests that most people think the health care fight, which the party is hanging its 2010 hat on, is one worth having. Even after being exposed to nearly 12 months of parliamentary procedure, closed-door caucus meetings, tea party rhetoric, blown deadlines and the postponement of nearly every other legislative goal besides health reform, most people would favor Congress take up health care reform again right away if the current effort failed.

Forty-seven percent of respondents said they would want Congress to consider “significant” health care reform legislation again “immediately” if the current effort fails. Just 15% said Congress should wait until after the next presidential election.

So at least there’s one thing Americans can agree on when it comes to the reform debate — we’re gluttons for punishment.