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When Opposition to Health Care Reform Isn’t Really Opposition

Republicans have been trumpeting polls indicating that most Americans oppose the Democrats’ proposals to reform the country’s dysfunctional health care system. Yet there’s increasing evidence that a good chunk of the opposition is rooted, not in any real criticism of the bills, but in the public’s misunderstanding of what the bills would do.

An example: The Kaiser Family Foundation today released the results of a poll finding that 42 percent of Americans support reform, while 41 percent oppose it. Yet the approval numbers leap when certain elements of the bill are described to the respondents.

After hearing that tax credits would be available to small businesses that want to offer coverage to their employees, 73 percent said it made them more supportive of the legislation. Sixty-seven percent said they were more supportive when they heard that the legislation included health insurance exchanges, and 63 percent felt that way after being told that people could no longer be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions. Sixty percent were more supportive after hearing that the legislation would help close the Medicare “doughnut hole” so that seniors would no longer face a period of having to pay the full cost of their medicines.

You can hear the criticisms already: Kaiser is a liberal group that probably skewed the figures. OK, fine. Then take this poll from NBC and the decidedly un-liberal Wall Street Journal — conducted in the middle of last August’s town-hall conflagrations — which found that, while just 36 percent of Americans supported the Democrats’ reforms, the number jumps to 53 percent “when respondents were read a paragraph describing Obama’s plans.”

As Nate Silver asked yesterday, how seriously should Washington lawmakers treat a public opinion that’s been largely formulated by lies coming from Republicans?

Put another way: Should the nation’s lawmakers craft legislation according to the ignorance of their constituents, or does their responsibility as leaders transcend the popularity contest of Washington politics?

Waiting for a reply …

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