Wall Street Journal

by: Heather Higgins, President and CEO, Independent Women’s Voice, and KellyAnne E Conaway, President, The Polling Company

Sobering poll news for 35 key House members

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she plans to bring health-care reform to a vote this week. Democratic leaders cite national polls that show support for individual provisions of the bill as a reason to pass this reform. Yet vulnerable politicians should be warned: Responses to questions about individual benefits, particularly when removed from a cost context, are different from those on the whole bill.

Voters in key congressional districts are clear in their opposition to what they have seen, read and heard on health-care reform. That’s one of the findings of a survey that will be released today by the Polling Company on behalf of Independent Women’s Voice. The survey consisted of 1,200 registered voters in 35 districts represented by members who could determine the outcome of the health-care debate. Twenty of those members voted for the House bill in November but now may be reconsidering. Fifteen voted against the bill but are under tremendous pressure to change their vote.

The survey shows astonishing intensity and sharp opposition to reform, far more than national polls reflect. For 82% of those surveyed, the heath-care bill is either the top or one of the top three issues for deciding whom to support for Congress next November. (That number goes to 88% among independent women.) Sixty percent want Congress to start from scratch on a bipartisan health-care reform proposal or stop working on it this year. Majorities say the legislation will make them and their loved ones (53%), the economy (54%) and the U.S. health-care system (55%) worse off—quite the trifecta.

Seven in 10 would vote against a House member who votes for the Senate health-care bill with its special interest provisions. That includes 45% of self-identified Democrats, 72% of independents and 88% of Republicans. Three in four disagree that the federal government should mandate that everyone buy a government-approved insurance plan (64% strongly so), and 81% say any reform should focus first on reducing costs. Three quarters agree that Americans have the right to choose not to participate in any health-care system or plan without a penalty or fine.

That translates into specific concerns with the Senate legislation—and none of these objections would be addressed by the proposed fixes. Over 70%—indeed in several districts over 80%—of respondents, across party lines, said that the following information made them less supportive: the bill mandates that individuals purchase insurance or face penalties; it cuts Medicare Advantage; it will force potentially millions to lose existing coverage; it will cost an estimated $2.3 trillion over its first 10 years; and it will grant unprecedented new powers to the Health and Human Services secretary.

Should members from these districts and those like them be concerned? Yes. Walking the Democratic line now means walking the plank. Sixty percent of the voters surveyed will vote for a candidate who opposes the current legislation and wants to start over.

What about passing the Senate bill and then fixing problems via reconciliation, a process that could allow Congress to pass a second health-care bill with a simple Senate majority? Sixty-three percent (50% strongly) think reconciliation is at best a political promise and their congressman shouldn’t vote for the Senate bill if he doesn’t agree with it as written.

But the survey does provide a little good news for wavering Democrats. A congressman can buy himself a little grace if he had previously voted for health-care reform but now votes against it. Forty-nine percent of voters will feel more supportive of that member if he does so, 40% less supportive. More dramatically, 58% of voters say they will be more supportive of their congressman’s re-election if he votes against the bill a second time. However, for those members who voted against it in November and vote yes this time, 61% of voters say they will be less likely to support their re-election.

Over a third of respondents say they will actively work against a candidate who votes the wrong way or for the candidate who votes the right way. Perhaps that’s because dramatic pluralities of both sexes—young people, seniors and independents, regardless of whether John McCain or Barack Obama carried the district in 2008—say that if the legislation doesn’t pass they will be relieved.

These are the constituents of the members whose votes will matter most this week. Perhaps, if this republic is still the people’s, those members should heed those they claim to represent.

 Ms. Higgins runs Independent Women’s Voice. Ms. Conway is president and CEO of the Polling Company, inc./WomanTrend. Poll results will be available after 11 a.m. Monday at www.iwvoice.org.