Health Reform a Key to a Rebound for Obama, Stephanopoulos Contends: ‘People Want That’

“Until the economy starts to create jobs, the President's political fortunes are not going to improve,” ABC’s George Stephanopoulos conceded Wednesday night in reporting how President Obama’s approval level has fallen to 46 percent amongst independents. But though 53 percent disapprove of his handling of health care and more are opposed to than in favor of the congressional Democrats/Obama plan, Stephanopoulos asserted a health care bill would help Obama rebound since “people still want that” passed:

What the White House can do -- what they're trying to do -- is to achieve a health care bill. People still want that. Probably scaled down.

Stephanopoulos apparently based his contention how the ABC News/Washington Post poll (PDF of portion released Wednesday night) found 63 percent think “lawmakers in Washington should (keep trying to pass) a comprehensive health care reform plan.” But they don’t want what Obama is pushing, so it’s hard to see how continued White House focus would benefit Obama.

To wit, excerpts from ABC polling expert Gary Langer’s summary of the survey:

The president's rated negatively for his handling of four out of five individual issues tested in this poll: the deficit (56 percent disapprove), health care and the economy (53 percent apiece) and creating jobs (51 percent). His only positive is for handling terrorism.

His opponents, moreover, are fired up. On health care 43 percent "strongly" disapprove of his performance, while far fewer, 24 percent, strongly approve....

Views on the overall [health] plan as it currently stands are at a near-even division – 46 percent in favor, 49 percent opposed. Equally important, though, is that the public does not want to see the issue abandoned. Americans by a broad 63-34 percent say lawmakers in Washington should keep trying to pass a comprehensive health care reform plan, rather than giving up on it....

Sixty percent of Americans say the proposed changes to the health care system are too complicated; just 35 percent say it has to be this complex to accomplish the desired goals. And the division is about the same on costs: Fifty-nine percent say the plan as it stands simply is too expensive....

From the Wednesday, February 10 World News on ABC:

DIANE SAWYER: We have a new poll out tonight. The President's approval rating stands at 51-46. But there is another number that is sending a tremor under the White House and our chief political correspondent, anchor of Good Morning America, George Stephanopoulos, joins us now. And George, this number is about the independents, they have flipped?

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: They have. Independents swung decisively to the President during the election. They stood by him all through the summer, but there's been a steady slide since then. Look at that now, drop below 50 percent: Only 46 percent of independents now approve of the job the President’s doing. That’s a big change.

SAWYER: What the single biggest thing that did it?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Unemployment. Double-digit unemployment. But beyond that, there's a sense they are turned off by too much government -- those bailouts, the stimulus – and by the fact that there isn't enough bipartisanship in Washington. That’s what they want.

SAWYER: Republican themes. So it is helping the Republicans? How much?

STEPHANOPOULOS: No question about it. Big number here. Ask voters who they’re going to vote for in the mid-term elections: 48 percent say Republicans, 45 percent Democrats. We’ve only seen that number a half dozen times in the last 30 years.

SAWYER: Which leaves about ten months to turn it around before the mid-term elections. What are they going to do in the White House?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well it's not going to turn around completely. Democrats and Republicans agree that Republicans are picking up seats in the mid-term elections. What the White House can do -- what they’re trying to do -- is to achieve a health care bill. People still want that. Probably scaled down. But bottom line, Diane, until that -- until the economy starts to create jobs, the President's political fortunes are not going to improve.

SAWYER: Okay, so they’re looking for forward motions, but until something happens on jobs, not going to matter.

Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center