The Public and the Public Option

| Sun Sep. 13, 2009 11:55 PM EDT

Here's today's healthcare reform question: How do Americans feel about the public option?  Do they (a) support it, (b) oppose it, or (c) not care all that much?

I think you can guess the answer.  Here are two questions from the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll:

So: 46% support the overall plan.  But 55% support the public option.  The public option is actually more popular than the overall plan.

So what happens if you remove the public option?  Answer: support for the plan goes up.

At first this seems counterintuitive: why would support go up if you remove a popular option?  The answer, of course, is simple: a small number of people who oppose the plan are willing to support it if you remove the public option.  At the same time, supporters of the public plan are mostly pretty luekwarm.  Sure, they like the idea of a public option, but if you remove it they still support reform.  Apparently, most supporters really don't care one way or another.

I guess you can spin this whichever way you want.  If you oppose the public option, this poll shows that healthcare reform does indeed have stronger support without it.  But if you support the public option, this poll shows that it's much ado about nothing: removing the option appeases only a tiny number of people.  And a solid majority support the public option in the first place.

My guess is that polls like this doom the public option: removing it helps in Congress and apparently does no harm with the public.  Nobody goes to the mat for an issue that plays out like that.