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Poll: Most Say Health Care Fight About Politics, Not Policy


Poll analysis by the CBS News Polling Unit: Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Fred Backus and Anthony Salvanto.

Americans believe that both Republicans and Democrats were fighting about health care reform because of politics, not policy, a new CBS News poll finds.

Asked why Democrats worked to pass a health care bill, 57 percent said "mostly political reasons." Just 35 percent said it was because Democrats think the bill is good policy.

Americans had an even more cynical view of Republican motivations: Sixty-one percent said Republicans were acting on the basis of political concerns, while 29 percent said Republicans truly believed the bill was bad policy.

While partisans on both sides tended to think their party was acting out of policy concerns, independents were overwhelmingly likely to say that both parties were simply playing politics.

While the approval rating for both parties' handling of health care has risen, it remains low. Thirty-two percent of American approve of how Congressional Democrats are handling health care, an increase of seven points from October. But sixty percent disapprove.

For Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, their approval rating on health care stands at just 25 percent, up from 17 percent in October. Their disapproval rating is 64 percent.

The poll was taken from March 18-21, before the bill passed the House on Sunday. Both parties will be watching to see if and to what degree passage changes perceptions of both the bill and the two parties that spend much of the last year fighting over it.

More From the Poll:

Low Favorability Ratings For Pelosi, Reid

Most Give Obama Credit for Health Care Bill

Read the Complete Poll

With the economy and the lagging employment rate topping the list of concerns for Americans, there is a perception that Congress spent too much time on the health care fight. Forty-six percent say too much time was spent on the issue, while 28 percent said more time should have been spent.

Just one in five said Congress spent the right amount of time debating health care reform.

As for the debate over the bill, a majority of Americans say it made no difference to the final product. Just 15 percent said the debate improved the legislation, while 27 percent said the debate ultimately made it worse.

The debate seems to have driven down the overall approval rating of Congress. One year ago, 30 percent approved of the legislative body. By January, that had slipped to 23 percent. Last month it fell to 15 percent, and in the latest poll it stands at 14 percent. Seventy-six percent of those surveyed say they disapprove of the job Congress is doing.

It has also driven negative perceptions of Washington. More than half of those surveyed said the health care debate made them "more pessimistic" about Washington, while just 14 percent said it made them more optimistic. Twenty-eight percent said the debate made no difference.

Asked if their opinion of the health care bill matched up with that of their representative, more than half of those surveyed said they weren't sure. One in four said no, while 18 percent said yes.

One in four said their representative's vote on the bill would make it more likely they would support them in the November midterm elections. A higher percentage -- 31 percent -- said the vote would make it less likely that they would support their representative. Four in ten said it would not make a difference.

Views of the Bill:


Before the House vote Sunday, nearly half of Americans, including eight in ten Republicans, said they disapproved of the health care bill. One in three "strongly disapproved."

Thirty-seven percent, meanwhile, offered their approval -- including one in four who "strongly approved."

Americans were not optimistic about the impact the bill will have. While 29 percent said reforms in the bill will make the health care system better, 34 percent said they would make the system worse. Twenty-eight percent said they weren't sure, while eight percent predicted no change.

Despite Democrats' effort to stress that the bill will (eventually) make insurance companies provide coverage for people with preexisting conditions, just 53 percent of respondents said they believed it would do so. Thirty-one percent said it would not.

There was also widespread skepticism that the bill would help control the costs of health care premiums, with 37 percent saying it would and 50 percent saying it would not.

One in two Americans, including most Democrats and independents, said the bill would lead to too much government involvement in health care. Twenty-eight percent said it meant the "right amount" of government involvement and 14 percent said it would not offer enough.

Just one in five said the bill would help them personally. Thirty-five percent said it would hurt them, while another 28 percent predicted it would have no effect.

Most say they don't quite understand what's in the bill, however: Asked if they understand how reforms will affect their family, more than half said no and that the bill is confusing.

Slightly less than half of those surveyed said they had followed the health care debate "somewhat" closely, while another 28 percent said they followed the action "very" closely. Roughly one in four said they did not follow the debate very closely or at all.

Republicans were most likely to say they had followed the debate very closely.

This poll was taken as part of CBS News' "Where America Stands" series, an in-depth look at where the country stands today on key topics and an outlook for the future decade.

More Coverage of Health Care Reform:

Nine Events That Led to Health Care Reform
Analysis: Health Care Debate Shows Ideological Split
Health Care Bill Passed the House, But Battles Ahead in Senate, Court
Washington Unplugged: Obama's Next Task Is Selling the Health Care Bill
Health Care Reform: Which Party Comes Out on Top?
"Baby Killer" Remark Came From Randy Neugebauer
House Passes Health Care Bill
Health Care Bill: What's In It?
Rush Limbaugh: "America is Hanging by a Thread"
Palin: Health Care Vote a "Clarion Call" to Action Special Report: Health Care

This poll was conducted among a random sample of 1059 adults nationwide, interviewed by telephone March 18-21, 2010. Interviewing was continued Sunday until the House of Representatives voted on the legislation. Phone numbers were dialed from random digit dial samples of both standard land-line and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups is higher. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.
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