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The New Health Dialogue

A Blog from New America's Health Policy Program

HEALTH POLITICS: The Massachusetts Message? Not So Fast

Published:  January 21, 2010

Jill Lawrence at Politics Daily crunched some Massachusetts numbers and concluded that the voters that were most concerned about health reform ... voted for Democrat Martha Coakley.

Which means that maybe everyone needs to take a deep breath. She writes:

But now we do have an intriguing and counter-intuitive nugget from a Rasmussen poll of 1,000 people who voted in the special election. A solid majority -- 56 percent -- said health care was their top issue. And 53 percent of them voted for...Democrat Martha Coakley. So, more people motivated by the health issue wanted to save reform than kill it. "I could make the case very strongly that health care is the issue that got Scott Brown his initial traction," pollster Scott Rasmussen told me. "There are people out there who really dislike it, and saw him as a vehicle to get that 41st vote (to block it). But among the people who said health care was their top issue, Coakley won. So clearly that wasn't enough to get him over the top." Brown made up ground in other areas. He narrowly bested Coakley on the economy, which 25 percent of voters said was their top issue. He was preferred by wide margins on taxes and national security, named top issues by a combined 10 percent of voters.

Before it's set in stone, maybe we should re-examine the idea that Brown's victory means Democrats should abandon health reform. Rasmussen called the Massachusetts race "nuanced" and said it can't be read as a simple referendum on health care. His poll does make clear the Democrats' dilemma: Health reform is extremely important to their base and appeared to drive up turnout for Coakley -- yet reform also drives turnout on the other side and is unpopular in national polls. People think it's going to raise costs and lower the quality of care, Rasmussen said, and don't like the raw deal-making they've seen in the legislative process.

"The sooner the Democrats can get the legislative process behind them, the better off they're going to be," he said. "One, because of the ugliness of it. And two, they've got to focus on other issues that are more pressing to voters."

Judging from the reaction in Washington, it's already pretty close to being set in stone. Anyone out there know a nonviolent, legal way of turning stones into pebbles?

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