analysis

How to Sink a Three-pointer Today - Part II

Last week, I offered up some advice for President Obama on how to shape his speech to the joint session of Congress today. Here are a few more pointers, based on the numbers:

Demonstrate that reforming health care will aid or at least not hurt individual Americans or their families. Surveys conducted by both Pew and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation have consistently indicated that at least a plurality of the public (albeit a declining one) believe that current health care reform proposals would help the country as whole. At the same time, voters are not as sanguine about the impact of health care reform on themselves and their family. The recent CBS News survey indicates that 31% believe that current congressional health care reform proposals would hurt them personally, while only 18% say they would help. More specifically, voters are more likely to believe that these proposals would raise (41%) rather than reduce (20%) their health care costs; worsen (34%) rather than improve (19%) the quality of their health care; and, make it harder (37%) rather than easier (13%) for them to see a doctor. Similarly, clear pluralities perceive that these proposals would hurt the middle class (43%), seniors (36%), and small businesses (46%). As has occurred so often during the past four decades, Republicans and conservatives, with Democratic assistance, have managed to define a Democratic initiative as a social program that would aid others to the detriment of average Americans. Given this, it's surprising that the public is not more strongly opposed to what it perceives to be President Obama's and Democratic health care reform proposals than it already is. If he does nothing else, the president must use his speech to inform and convince the public that his health care reform proposals will benefit, or at least not hurt, middle class Americans.

Recognize that he and his party are dealing from a position of relative strength, even on the matter of health care reform, than Congress as a whole or the Republican opposition. Even though President Obama's overall job approval score and his marks for handling health care have trended downward over the past several months, they remain well above those of the other actors in this drama. In the most recent Daily Kos tracking survey, only Barack Obama was rated favorably by at least a plurality of voters (52%). By contrast, only a third have favorable impressions of the two Democratic congressional leaders, Nancy Pelosi (32%) and Harry Reid (31%). Less than one in five are positive about the two GOP leaders in Congress, Mitch McConnell (19%) and John Boehner (15%). Only 39% are favorable toward the congressional Democrats as a whole, while just 18% feel that way about the congressional Republicans.

And, with regard specifically to health care reform, the CBS News survey indicates that by a greater than 2:1 margin (50% vs. 23%) voters believe that President Obama has better ideas than Republicans. This margin has remained consistent throughout the summer.

Moreover, the Democratic Party is clearly the majority party both inside Congress and within the electorate, although some reporters seem to forget this. In commenting about President Obama's speech on the Today Show, Chuck Todd said that the setting on Wednesday evening would be odd because "half of the members will be applauding wildly and the other half will be sitting on their hands." Actually, Democrats comprise about 60% of the members of each House and that 10-percentage point difference is of more than academic importance. Democrats not only have enough members in Congress to make more noise than their GOP counterparts, but their edge is sizable enough to control the legislative process if they are willing and have the courage to use it. 

Meanwhile, out in the country, according to both Pew and Ipsos, about half of the electorate identifies with or leans to the Democratic Party. By contrast, only somewhat more than a third say that they are Republicans or lean that way. This is a far different pattern than it was in 1994, the last time Congress considered health care reform, when equal numbers (44%) identified with each party. This Democratic majority is bolstered by the party's disproportionate strength within emerging and growing demographics-Millennials (voters 18-27), Latinos, Asians, and African-Americans-as well as women, who comprise a slight majority of both the population and electorate. These groups underpinned the president's decisive victory in 2008 and continue to support him, his legislative initiatives (including health care reform), and the Democratic Party to a substantially greater extent than other groups.

Stemming from its status as America's majority party, voters continue to have a far more favorable image of Democrats than Republicans on most issues and government management matters.

 

Democratic Party

Republican Party

Democratic

Advantage/Disadvantage

Can do better on issue of...

 

 

 

Education

47%

22%

+25

Energy

47%

25%

+22

Health care

46%

27%

+19

Foreign policy

44%

31%

+13

The economy

42%

32%

+10

Afghanistan

37%

28%

+9

Abortion

41%

33%

+8

Immigration

36%

31%

+5

Budget deficit

36%

35%

+1

Taxes

37%

38%

-1

Terrorist defenses

32%

38%

-6

Which party...

 

 

 

More concerned about disadvantaged

58%

20%

+38

More concerned about people like me

51%

27%

+24

Can bring needed changes

47%

25%

+22

Selects better candidates

46%

28%

+18

Governs in more honest/ethical way

42%

26%

+16

Can better manage federal government

38%

34%

+4

More influenced by lobbyists

31%

37%

-6

More concerned about needs of business

26%

55%

-29

Obviously, Congress is constitutionally equal to the executive branch. The president cannot simply dictate to or command it to act in order to win a congressional majority. It would also be a plus if at least a few Republicans supported Democratic health care reform initiatives, although seems increasingly unlikely, something that may ultimately force the president and his party to go it alone. Some compromise will likely be necessary to obtain either or both of those ends. But, in his negotiations to achieve those goals President Obama, his staff, and congressional Democrats should recognize that they do some advantages, among them majority status in Congress, a majority coalition within the electorate, and a far higher level of public favorability than the Republicans. This means the president and Democratic congressional leaders should not have to completely roll over to achieve meaningful health care reform. They will not have to do so if they recognize and work from their current position of strength.

A recent Los Angeles Times article maintains that whatever ultimately happens with current healthcare reform proposals, President Obama has taken the matter further than did Bill Clinton, the last president to make such a concerted effort-or indeed any president has since Harry Truman proposed a national health care program six decades ago. What Barack Obama says next Wednesday and does in the weeks that follow will go a long way toward determining whether he will have to be satisfied with the moral victory of simply exceeding his last Democratic predecessor or go on to win final victory. Clearly and forcefully stating his goals and being willing to take advantage of his political and institutional strengths will put him in position to, at long last, win the health care championship.

NDN Backgrounder: Immigration Reform and the Growing Power of the Hispanic Vote

With debate over the recent vote in Congress on the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) largely turning into a debate on immigration, we present much of NDN's key work on comprehensive immigration reform, the changing demographic realities of 21st century America andĀ Hispanic electoral trends.

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