The Numbers Don't Lie

A Democratic senator I can't name, who reluctantly voted for the health-care bill out of loyalty to his party and his admiration for Barack Obama, privately complained to me that the measure was political folly, in part because of the way it goes into effect: some taxes first, most benefits later, and rate hikes by insurance companies in between.

Besides that, this Democrat said, people who already have coverage will feel threatened and resentful about helping to cover the uninsured—an emotion they will sanitize for the polltakers into a concern about federal spending and debt.

On the day the president signed into law the "fix-it" addendum to the massive health-care measure, two new polls show just how fearful and skeptical Americans are about the entire enterprise.  If the numbers stay where they are—and it's not clear why they will change much between now and November—then the Democrats really are in danger of colossal losses at the polls.

I say this even though I was one of those who always said that Obama would get a bill passed—and that, politically, he personally had no choice but to get it done if he wanted to have a successful presidency. But his reputation as a can-do guy was purchased at a very high political cost.

The first week of salesmanship by the Democrats and the president hasn't done any good. According to the new Rasmussen poll, only 41 percent of Americans think the law is "good for the country," compared with 50 percent who see it as "bad for the country." Last week the ratio was 41–49 percent.  Sixty percent think the measure is "likely to increase the deficit"—also a figure unchanged from last week.

Some polling experts suggest Rasmussen's "house effect" tilts slightly conservative. But if you don't want to take Scott Rasmussen's word for it, you're not going to get much solace from Gallup, still the biggest brand in the business.

In Gallup's new poll, Americans by narrow margins agree that the new health-care law will improve coverage (44–40 percent) and the "overall health of Americans" (40–35 percent).  In a way, it's astonishing that sizable minorities could disagree with those two statements, since everyone agrees the law will provide medical coverage to 32 million more Americans.

But that's where support, however ambivalent, ends. Americans think the law will harm the U.S. economy (44–34 percent), the overall quality of health care in the U.S. (55–29 percent), and the federal balance sheet (61–23 percent).

It's almost as bad when you ask voters how the law will affect them personally. There is lots of doubt and some considerable belief (or hope) that the new law won't affect them at all. But respondents who said the measure would affect them generally fear what that change would be. They think the measure would adversely affect "the health-care coverage you and your family receive" (34–24 percent); "the quality of health care you and your family receive" (35–21 percent); and the "costs you and your family pay for health care: (50–21 percent).

I know that the president and his advisers want to "pivot" to other topics—economic development, jobs, energy, and foreign policy. They're content, for now, to focus on solidifying their Democratic base. I'm sure that Obama, who plays a deep and patient game, figures that the country—including independents, who won it for him in 2008—will eventually come back, at least by 2012.

But he's dug himself a partisan hole with this big bill, and it'll be interesting to see him try to dig his way out.