Democratic Pollster on Health Care: "We need to go out and sell this plan and sell it aggressively."


That's Democratic pollster Mark Mellman in today's National Journal, saying, essentially, that now that Democrats have forced people to swallow this BFD, they need to convince people that they like it, too.

No doubt the better-late-than-never theory, in which the bill becomes beloved post-passage, helps some anxious Democrats sleep better at night. But the notion that President Obama and Democratic leadership are, after all this time, finally going to convince the public that ObamaCare is a good idea is a sharp reminder that the bill's passage is as much a potential political predicament as victory. Here's more from the NJ piece:

"Failure would have been a disaster. But passing this bill isn't necessarily a big help, other than avoiding a disaster," [Democratic pollster Mark] Mellman said. "Let's be honest. People are not sitting there with very positive impressions of this bill. They don't know much about what is in it, and they have a lot of misconceptions. They don't know a lot about the positives that are in there."

Clearly, inside the White House there is acknowledgement that Republicans outmaneuvered Democrats in the weeks after the stimulus bill passed and did a better job of defining for the public what was in that bill. To many voters, the stimulus package was unpopular bailouts, calling for too much spending and creating too few jobs.

The White House is determined to learn from that experience.

This strikes me as a good reminder of what a risky bet Democrats made. In passing the health care bill, a major Democratic assumption was that the public would eventually warm up to the plan, a belief that was predicated on the dubious idea that the public didn't really understand the bill, but would like it once they did.

No doubt public understanding was not as deep as most wonks wished. But there was reasonably good evidence to be skeptical of any claim that they were totally ignorant: Surveys showed public awareness of the bill's key provisions—yes, even those likely to be most popular—was pretty strong relative to other political knowledge. Surveys also showed that the top reasons for opposing the bill were the individual mandate and the overall cost—pretty much exactly the reasons you'd expect them to be opposed. Public opinion is notoriously difficult to pin down with real certainty, but the implication, I think, was fairly clear: A majority of the public was aware of the bill's costs—and didn't think they were worth the benefits.

Where public opinion goes from here is, as always, tough to predict; already, the results are somewhat conflicted. Monday's CNN poll put opposition to the bill at 59 percent and Pollster.com's average still shows the public opposed 50.5 percent to 41.5 percent, but USA Today/Gallup's post-vote snapshot reports an uptick in potential support: "By 49%-40%," it reads, "those polled say it was 'a good thing' rather than a bad one that Congress passed the bill." A post-passage poll bump isn't surprising, but how long will it last? If the stimulus example the National Journal piece uses is any indication, it may not last long: The stimulus didn't become unpopular simply because of the perception of the bill; it became unpopular because of the reality of the bill, which cost a lot of money but, for most people, didn't result in a lot of clear benefit. It wasn't a messaging problem; it was a failure to deliver results.

Are ObamaCare supporters arguing for the plan's merits on better footing now than before the bill was passed? They sure seem to think so. But when reality starts to sink in on the health care bill—reality that's likely to include an endless onslaught of court challenges and tough campaign rhetoric as well as the eventual imposition of a health insurance mandate and significantly higher taxes for millions of Americans—how long will any post-vote opinion bump last?