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Support for Public Options Remains Strong, Polls Show

(CBS 3 Philadelphia)
While the debate in Congress over including a "public option" in health care reform legislation continues, Americans' views on a government-administered health plan are clearer: more than half support it.

Recent CBS News Polls have shown that a majority of Americans consistently supports a public option – defined as a government-administered health insurance plan something like the Medicare coverage that people 65 and older receive that would compete with private health insurance plans.

And although support has dropped ten points since June, 62 percent favored it in an early October CBS News Poll, while just half as many, 31 percent, opposed it.

Now 9/2009 8/2009 7/2009 6/2009
Favor 62% 65% 60% 66% 72%
Oppose 31% 26% 34% 27% 20%

Recent polls conducted by other media and polling organizations also find a majority in support of a public option.

While each pollster asks the question slightly differently, levels of support are now similar. A ABC News/Washington Post poll released today found 57 percent supported the government creating "a new health insurance plan to compete with private health insurance plans." That's up from 55 percent in their previous poll last month.

In August, 55 percent told the CNN/Opinion Research poll they favored "a public health insurance option administered by the federal government that would compete with plans offered by private health insurance companies."

In a Pew poll conducted in September, 55 percent favored a "government health insurance plan to compete with private health insurance plans." The September NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll found slightly less, 46 percent, in favor of a "public health care plan administered by the government that would compete directly with private insurance companies."

Pollsters have long known that the way in which a question is worded can sometimes affect the results. In August, CBS News conducted a split-sample experiment, asking half the sample their views on a plan "similar to Medicare, that people age 65 and older receive," and the other half about a public option without the reference to Medicare.

Without the Medicare reference, fewer -- but still a 53 percent majority -- said they favored the government offering a health insurance plan, with 36 percent opposed. That finding is similar to the results from other polls that also omit the Medicare reference.

Without Medicare Reference With Medicare Reference
Favor 53% 60%
Oppose 36% 34%
Don't Know 11% 6%

Not everyone supports the public option. In the October CBS News Poll, 83 percent of Democrats favored it, but support dropped to just 34 percent among Republicans, with 57 percent opposed.

Support for the public option also varies by age. Among people age 65 and over, 49 percent favor the public option, and 38 percent are opposed. By comparison, about seven in 10 of those under age 45 support it.

More Coverage on the Debate Over Health Care Reform:

Track the Progress of Health Care Reform
Is Quality, Affordable Health Care Possible for $900B?
Baucus: Public Option Still on the Table Special Report: Health Care

Sarah Dutton is the CBS News director of surveys. Poll Positions is weekly Hotsheet feature on polling trends from the CBS News Survey and Polling Unit. Click here for more posts from the series.
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