Poll: More Than Half of Americans Say Health Reform Is Not Worth Increasing the Deficit

By Christopher Neefus | December 28, 2009 | 12:05 PM EST

Teresa Hendley came from North Carolina to attend the Tea Party march at the Capitol on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2009. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

(CNSNews.com) – Support for President Obama’s health care reform sank lower in December than it dipped in August, after a summer of opposition at town halls and tea party gatherings across the country. 

A Quinnipiac University poll released last week, which measured the views of likely voters on a range of current events, found that fewer Americans approve of how the president is handling the issue; fewer believe health care reform is important enough to increase the deficit; and fewer believe President Obama will be able to make the bill deficit-neutral, than when the same questions were asked on Aug. 5. 

Quinnipiac asked voters: “Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling health care?”
Obama saw 46 percent approval from voters in the beginning of July, but as members of the House of Representatives went home for August recess, approval dipped to just 39 percent on Aug. 5. After a slight rebound in the fall, Obama’s approval rating on the issue crept further down to 38 percent.

Over the same period, those who disapproved of the president’s handling of health care grew in ranks from 42 percent in July to 52 percent in August to 56 percent in the December poll. Meanwhile, the number of respondents who remained unsure shrank by more than half from 13 percent to just 6 percent.
The poll also found fewer people believe Obama’s pledge that the health care reform bill he potentially could sign will be deficit-neutral.
The Quinnipiac Polling Institute asked: “President Obama has pledged that health insurance reform will not add to our federal budget deficit over the next decade. Do you think that President Obama will be able to keep his promise or do you think any health care plan that Congress passes and President Obama signs will add to the federal budget deficit?”
On Aug. 5, just 21 percent said they believed Obama would be able to keep his promise to make the bill deficit-neutral, and 72 percent thought the bill would end up adding money to the federal debt. The new poll shows the percentage who believe Obama can keep his promise has dipped to 18 percent, and 73 percent think the bill will cost money for which offsets will not make up the difference.

Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said on Dec. 22  that Americans prioritize the deficit over health care reform. Speaking about a scenario in which the bill added to the deficit, Brown told reporters, “56 percent say if that’s the case, they don’t want -- they would prefer not to increase the deficit than [to] have health care reform.”
Indeed, 56 percent now disagree that “overhauling the nation’s health care system is so important that it should be enacted even if it significantly increases the federal budget deficit,” and only 37 percent agree, according to the poll. The same number-percentage of respondents agreed in August.
Despite the flat or negative trend in polling data, Congress has continued to move forward with the legislation. The House of Representatives passed its version of the legislation, the Affordable Health Care for America Act, on November 7 by a 220-215 margin, with 39 Democrats voting no. 

The Senate passed its version of the legislation on Dec. 24 on a party-line vote, 60 to 39. (One Republican skipped the vote.) 
Brown told reporters on Dec. 22  that while the public had expressed some significant opposition to the current bills, it was not enough to stymie the progress.

“Obviously, support for health care has deteriorated over the summer out in the country but, at this point, the only votes that matter are the 535 members of Congress,” Brown said, referring to the 435 members of the House and 100 members of the Senate. 
A congressional committee with key members of the House and Senate must now meet, after the first of the year, and merge the bills into what is known as a conference report. That product must then make its way through both the House and Senate once more for another vote.
The Quinnipiac University poll was conducted from a sample of 1,616 registered voters between December 15-20, 2009. It carries a margin of error of +/-2.4 percentage points.