What Obama's Pollster Is Saying

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JONATHAN CHAIT MARCH 12, 2010

What Obama's Pollster Is Saying

Chris Cilizza reports a nice scoop:

A new polling memo from Joel Benenson, the White House's pollster of choice, argues that support for President Barack Obama's health care plan has been building in the wake of his State of the Union speech in late January.

Since February 1, according to data compiled by Benenson, 44 percent of those tested in national surveys support the bill while 45 percent oppose it -- a sea change from the 38 percent favor/52 percent oppose average of polls conducted in the three months prior.

[Update: Jonathan Cohn has the memo and put it online here.]

But then continues, ending on a note that's crazy wrong:

The White House has long argued that the best -- and they would say only -- option to avoid political destruction on health care is to have some sort of bill to take to the voters of their districts.

Republicans, on the other hand, are convinced that passing the bill is a political death sentence for Democrats as it would be done even amid signs that the public simply doesn't want it.

One side is right, one is wrong. On November 2, we'll find out which is which.

We'll find out who's right and who's wrong? How? Any reasonable analysis of the situation suggests that Democrats are going to lose seats regardless of whether they pass health care reform. As a firm believer in the notion that passing reform is the best way to minimize those losses, I'll concede that if the Democrats don't pass reform, and they do lose seats, that fact alone would not prove me right. Likewise, if they do pass reform and then lose seats, it wouldn't prove me wrong.

At the very least, you need some baseline expectation for how many seats you expect the party to lose. As of now, eight months out, I expect Democrats to lose control of the House -- maybe a 40-50 seat loss -- even if they pass reform. If they don't pass reform, I think a much larger loss -- say, 60-80 seats -- is possible. But since health care will have succeeded or failed long before the election, there will simply be no way to tell form results whether its passage (or lack thereof) helped or hurt.

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posted in: jonathan chait, barack obama, chris cilizza, joel benenson, jonathan cohn, white house

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