Eight weeks ago, The Washington Post topped its own front-page with its own ABC-Washington Post poll announcing that the public strongly favored a "public option" in health care, by 57 to 40 percent. Their latest poll is much worse: "Negatives abound in poll," read the subhead. So it was buried on page 6 Wednesday. On the front page instead, a happy-talk headline: "Health bill’s prospects improve as Lieberman signals support."
Tuesday's conservative "Code Red" rally in Washington wasn't buried in the Post. It was nowhere in the Post.
The actual poll story by Dan Balz and Jon Cohen reports that 44 percent support current health-care legislation, and 51 percent disapprove. Approval of Obama’s handling of health-care has gone sour: 44 percent approve, while 53 percent disapprove. But the Post’s front page is still touting "Health care bill’s prospects improve" as their own poll shows a collapse of public support.
The headline in the paper on Wednesday is "As talks draw out, public frets about health-care costs." Frets? When Bush was sinking in the Post poll, was "frets" the word for the public? The online headline is more politically realistic, but causes more liberal indigestion: "Public cooling to health-care reform as debate drags on, poll finds." The numbers are not pretty:
More than half of those polled, 53 percent, see higher costs for themselves if the proposed changes go into effect than if the current system remains intact. About as many (55 percent) say the overall cost of the national health-care system would go up more sharply. Moreover, just 37 percent say the quality of their care would be better under a new system; 50 percent see it as better under the current set-up.
Even among those who presumably stand to benefit most from a major restructuring of the insurance market -- the nearly one in 5 adults without coverage -- there are doubts about the changes under consideration. Those without insurance are evenly divided on the question of whether their care would be better if the system were overhauled.
The most positive spin on the poll story is used on the front page text box: "Poll finds electorate fearful of costs: A slim majority of Americans believe that government action is needed to control health-care costs and expand coverage." On washingtonpost.com, readers found a big headline on "Health bill's prospects improve" and a tiny headline on "Poll: public cooling to reform."
Balz and Cohen tried to play up how Obama's drawing strong numbers of support on more troops to Afghanistan -- which is cold comfort to liberals. But Obama's overall approval is falling to new lows, which was avoided in headlines:
Obama's domestic battles have taken their toll, as his approval ratings on key issues have sunk to the lowest points of his presidency. On health care, 53 percent disapprove of his performance, a new high. On the economy, 52 percent disapprove, also a new high mark in Post-ABC polling. Same on the deficit, on which 56 percent now disapprove of his stewardship. On the politically volatile issue of unemployment, 47 percent approve of the way Obama is dealing with the issue; 48 percent disapprove.
Under the weight of these more negative reviews, the president's overall approval rating has dipped to 50 percent, down from 56 percent a month ago. Other national surveys have recorded his ratings at or below 50 percent in recent weeks, but this is his lowest level yet in a Post-ABC News survey.
The erosion in the president's standing has been driven by continued slippage among political independents, particularly among independent men. For the first time, a majority of independents disapprove of his overall job performance, and independents' disapproval of his handling of health care and the economy tops six in 10.
Balz and Cohen noted that the ABC-Post sample contained more Republicans this time:
Some of the changes away from the president and the Democrats in this poll stem from a more GOP-leaning sample than in previous surveys. In this poll, the Democratic advantage in partisan identification has been shaved to six points, the first time in more than a year that the gap has been lower than double digits. There is also near-parity between the parties, when nonpartisans who "lean" toward one party or the other are counted, also a first for 2009.