The pending health-care overhaul remains unpopular with a broad swath of the public, but core Democrats the party needs to show up and vote in November are strong backers, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds.The survey found that opinions have solidified around the health-care legislation, with 48% calling it a "bad idea" and 36% viewing it as a "good idea" when presented with a choice between those two. That gap is consistent with surveys dating to the fall.
At the same time, Democratic voters strongly favor the legislation being pushed by President Barack Obama, particularly constituencies such as blacks, Latinos and self-described liberals. Those groups mobilized in 2008 to help elect Mr. Obama, but are far less enthusiastic than core Republicans about voting in this year's midterm elections.
The survey found a 21-point enthusiasm gap between the parties, with 67% of Republicans saying they are very interested in the November elections, compared with 46% of Democrats. "If the Democrats are going to close that gap, they've got to get their people excited. And I don't see how you get those people if you vote no" on the party's health-care legislation, said Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducted the survey with Republican Bill McInturff.
"I don't think it's about winning the middle. It's really about alienating the base," Mr. Hart said of Democratic lawmakers' calculations about the upcoming health-care vote.
The survey found that Mr. Obama's job-approval rating of 48%—as opposed to the 47% who disapprove—has remained steady since its precipitous drop last summer, which coincided with rising public opposition to the health-care initiative.
Where the health-care debate has been a drag for Mr. Obama's numbers, it also has been an anchor for Congress, which now has an anemic 17% approval rating. Half of Americans, if they had the choice, would vote to replace every member of Congress, including their own representative, the survey found.
On health care, the results underscore the argument from liberal activists that the bill's demise would dissuade the Democratic base from voting in November. The Journal/NBC survey shows that majorities of African-Americans and liberal Democrats, as well as a plurality of Latinos, would be less likely to vote for their representative in Congress if he or she voted against the health-care plan.
Further complicating the calculation for all lawmakers is that a clear plurality of Americans wants the issue addressed in some form. Forty-seven percent of poll respondents said they wanted Congress to consider significant health-care legislation "immediately" if the Obama plan fails, while another 23% wanted that done at least within the next couple of years ...
No matter what happens on the vote this week, the survey points to political challenges facing both parties as they weigh how to talk about health care on the campaign trail this fall.
Thirty-six percent of voters said they would be less likely to support their member of Congress if he or she voted for the bill, but 34% said they would be less likely to support their representative if he or she voted against it. While Republican leaders have said they would encourage GOP candidates to campaign for repeal of the legislation should it pass, the survey showed voters split on that possibility: 37% were more likely to back a candidate who embraced repeal and 33% less likely.
More broadly, the survey showed continued gloominess among all voters about the country's direction, with nearly six in 10 saying it is on the wrong track. Adding to Democrats' election-year concerns: Voters are souring on the party's ability to deal with the country's economic troubles.
As an issue, handling of the economy has favored the Democrats in the past four election cycles. But now, by a 10-point margin, registered voters with the highest interest in the November elections said they believe the GOP is better at dealing with the economy.
Some of Mr. Obama's highest ratings relate to his work on foreign policy, an area that had been a weakness when he was a presidential candidate. Clear majorities said they approve of Mr. Obama's handling of the war in Afghanistan and the situation in Iraq. In both cases, 53% of respondents said they approved of his work.
The high numbers reflect the support by many Republicans and independents for the president's decision to boost troop levels in Afghanistan. Liberal activists have blamed that stance for adding to the decline in enthusiasm among core Democratic voters.
On another foreign-policy matter confronting the White House, a 51%-38% majority in the survey supported initiating military action to destroy Iran's ability to make nuclear weapons if Tehran continues its nuclear program and is close to developing a weapon. Thirty-nine percent said they strongly supported military action.