PRINCETON, NJ -- As the U.S. Senate continues working to craft a filibuster-proof healthcare reform bill, a new USA Today/Gallup poll finds public support for such efforts still below the majority level. Forty-six percent of Americans say they would advise their member of Congress to vote for healthcare legislation (or lean toward doing so), while 48% would advise a no vote (or lean in that direction).
Support had been at or above 50% in September and early October, but slumped to 43% by early November. It has recovered somewhat since then but remains below the earlier levels.
The fate of the comprehensive healthcare reform bill lies in the hands of the Senate Democratic majority (plus the two independents who vote with the party). Last week's compromise that sought to expand Medicare in exchange for dropping the "public option" insurance plan may need to be reworked to get the Senate to the 60 votes required to overcome a likely filibuster attempt. President Obama sought to rally the Democratic senators behind a bill at a White House meeting on Tuesday.
The views of Republicans and Democrats generally follow those of their respective parties' political leaders. Democratic identifiers overwhelmingly favor passing a healthcare bill, with 76% saying they would advise their member to vote for a bill (or lean in this direction) and 16% preferring a "no" vote. Meanwhile, Republicans oppose the healthcare legislation efforts by 83% to 13%. Political independents are more inclined to oppose (49%) than to favor (44%) a new healthcare bill.
Though Democratic support is high, it is down slightly from the early fall, when more than 80% of Democrats would have advised their member of Congress to vote for healthcare legislation. Independent support dipped in November but appears to be coming back to its prior levels, while Republican support remains low.
As the year draws to a close, the debate over healthcare legislation is far from over. While Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has expressed a desire to pass a bill before the end of the year, the Senate Democratic caucus still has some negotiating to do to bring a bill up for a vote that can withstand a filibuster attempt. Even if a bill passes, the House of Representatives and Senate must reconcile their two versions, which could reopen some of the more contentious debates concerning a public-option insurance plan and coverage for abortions.
The poll finds that 21% of Americans remain undecided on the bill (they currently lean in one direction or the other, or have no leaning at all), so it is possible the public will still climb on board. But as the debate has unfolded in recent months, the legislation has struggled to get even bare majority support.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,025 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Dec. 11-13, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.