Friday, November 13, 2009

Gallup: Majority does NOT want health care reform

Will the President take a hint?
More Americans now say it is not the federal government's responsibility to make sure all Americans have healthcare coverage (50%) than say it is (47%). This is a first since Gallup began tracking this question, and a significant shift from as recently as three years ago, when two-thirds said ensuring healthcare coverage was the government's responsibility...The reason behind this shift is unknown.

I'm not optimistic.

But here's the real question - are there enough Democrats reading these polls, understanding them, and desirous of keeping their seats, to kill it? Either in the Senate or in the House following a conference report? That - that I'm a little more optimistic about, but we're not out of the woods yet...

BTW, if the last line of that excerpt seems like a strange thing to shoehorn in there, I did it because there's another point that I wanted to make. Further down in the article, Gallup speculates that
It is possible that the current debate has increased the average American's awareness as to the nuances of the various roles the government could play in the healthcare system, helping make the generic "make sure all Americans have healthcare coverage" sound less appealing. Plus, the current debate may have produced more skepticism among Americans that the government's role in healthcare could or should be this broad.

I think that's probably exactly right. There are a few things at play here.

One is that the American people are, or at least traditionally have been, a free people. As such, their exposure to, or relationship with, their government tends to be limited. Most Americans don't work for the government, and, other than paying taxes or dealing with the law, live their lives without too much concern as to the specifics of what government is doing.

A related matter is that we have lives to live, and we tend to go on and live them. There's not a lot of energy expended, by the average American, on philosophies of government programs. We assume that our government is a necessary evil, operating under constitutional constraints, and there's not a lot of debate among the majority of Americans as to whether any given program is philosophically a good idea or theoretically constitutional. We tend to believe that, while government is a necessary, and too expensive, evil, that it's limited, and none of our representatives want to change the fundamental nature of America, the fundamental freedoms that we enjoy.1

Finally, Americans are, as a group, kind-hearted, sympathic, generous, and desirous of good things for all people. We here of someone suffering and our reaction is, "that's a shame - someone should do something about that." Americans donate billions of dollars every year for the less fortunate. And they sympathize with those who need health care and cannot afford it. Someone can post a facebook status to the effect of "No one should die because they cannot afford health care" and before you know it, half the people you know are posting that as a status.

And people recognize that there are problems in the existing system. So you couch it as "health care reform," you ask people whether the government should make sure that everyone has health care, and the easy answer is "absolutely." The vast majority of Americans have never sat down and thought through all the potential implications of changes to our health care system (or our justice system or the tax code or anything else.) They've got more important things to do, and trust in their elected representatives to not screw things up too badly.

But once the Democrats put specifics to it, the entire equation changes. Now we're no longer talking about a theoretical change that benefits the unfortunate, we're talking about an attack on insurance companies, health care providers, and our own current plans. Insurance companies tend to be, I suspect, much like politicians - we dislike them as a group, but we aren't too unhappy with our own2. All of a sudden, we're out of the realm of "cheap grace" and talking about actual costs. And, while a majority of Americans would love for everyone to have health care coverage, they don't actually want to pay for someone else's. And they certainly don't want to downgrade their own coverage...

1 - Clearly, this is not true for everyone. Activists on both sides spend their lives doing those very things. I'd argue that it is true for a significant majority of Americans.

2 - Obviously a gross generality. I, for example, loathe my politicians.

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