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First thoughts: Obama's good, bad news

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Good news and bad news: The (relatively) good news for the Obama White House in the new NBC News poll is that the contours of the health-care debate haven't really changed that much since those raucous congressional town-hall meetings began about two weeks ago. The bad news, however, is that the American public continues to have concerns about the president's plans, and this comes after a big-time P.R. blitz from the president himself and supporters using millions in TV ads. Consider: 40% (a plurality) believe the plans would worsen the quality of health care, only 41% approve of President Obama's handling of issue, and 54% are more worried that the government will go too far in reforming the nation's health system than they are concerned the reform won't do enough to reduce costs and cover the uninsured. Still, there is an appetite for reform. A combined 60% of respondents say the system needs either a "complete overhaul" or "major reform." But that combination has declined 10 points since April, and the percentage wanting a "complete overhaul" has dropped 12 points since that time. 

*** What's in it for me? In short, the president can't get across the "what's in it for us?" part of his health-care message. Folks with private insurance, in particular, are becoming more negative about his reform proposals. Clearly, the White House is seeing similar polling results as the president's last three town-hall meetings were about health INSURANCE reform and were an attempt to answer the "what's in it for me?" question so many folks WITH insurance have.

*** Rampant misinformation: One of the reasons why the public appears so wary about Obama's health-care plans is due to all the misinformation out there. Majorities in the poll believe the plans would give health insurance coverage to illegal immigrants (55%), would lead to a government takeover of the health system (54%), and would use taxpayer dollars to pay for women to have abortions (50%) -- all claims that nonpartisan fact-checkers say are untrue about the legislation that has emerged so far from Congress. Additionally, 45% think the reform proposals would allow the government to make decisions about when to stop providing medical care for the elderly, which also isn't true. When you have nearly half of the public believing that the government is willing to pull the plug on grandma, you're in trouble.

*** FOX vs. CNN/MSNBC: Here's another way to look at the misinformation: In our poll, 72% of self-identified FOX News viewers believe the health-care plan will give coverage to illegal immigrants, 79% of them say it will lead to a government takeover, 69% think that it will use taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions, and 75% believe that it will allow the government to make decisions about when to stop providing care for the elderly. But it would be incorrect to suggest that this is ONLY coming from conservative viewers who tune in to FOX. In fact, 41% of CNN/MSNBC viewers believe the misinformation about illegal immigrants, 39% believe the government takeover stuff, 40% believe the abortion misperception, and 30% believe the stuff about pulling the plug on grandma. What's more, a good chunk of folks who get their news from broadcast TV (NBC, ABC, CBS) believe these things, too. This is about credible messengers using the media to get some of this misinformation out there, not as much about the filter itself. These numbers should worry Democratic operatives, as well as the news media that have been covering this story.

*** The swing-vote coalition: Obama's overall approval rating in the poll is 51%, a two-point drop since last month and a 10-point decline since April. Obama continues to fare well with the coalition that propelled him to the White House -- among blacks, Hispanics, 18-29 year olds, urban residents, and those with post-graduate degrees. But according to our NBC co-pollsters, the president isn't performing as well with key swing-voter groups -- independents (46%-42% approve/disapprove), seniors (47%-45%), and suburban women. And seniors and suburban women are the primary users of the health-care system; they know the intricacies of the insurance industry more so than most folks, and so losing them may be DIRECTLY related to health care right now. One other thing worth pointing out: While the approval of Obama's handling of health care is at 41%, the public doesn't seem to trust the Republican Party at all on the issue; just 21% approve of the GOP's handling of health care.

*** Obama's and Biden's day: At 4:30 pm ET today, President Obama will deliver remarks from the White House honoring 2008 Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. An hour later, the president will host a conference with faith leaders to discuss health reform. Also today, Vice President Biden and Education Secretary Arnie Duncan head to the battleground state of Florida to argue how the stimulus has benefited the state (the administration says that 26,000 education jobs in Florida have been saved, and that the state has received $3.1 billion in stimulus funds for education and $8.3 billion in overall stimulus funds).

*** Obama's Thursday: Obama also will have an interesting Thursday. The White House tells First Read that the president tomorrow will be a guest on conservative talk-radio host Michael Smerconish's program, and they'll discuss health-care reform. Smerconish will broadcast his program from Diplomatic Room at the White House, and it will be the first radio show to be broadcast from the White House since Obama took office. Also on Thursday, Obama will participate in a strategy session -- by phone and online -- on health care with supporters from his Organizing for America list.

*** A thaw in the freeze? NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports that two North Korean diplomats will be meeting in Santa Fe, NM for the next two days with Gov. Bill Richardson. This is their first trip since 2007, when they helped arrange Richardson's trip to Pyongyang to recover the remains of U.S. soldiers. Mitchell adds that all this activity is the first sign of a real opening after a year of escalating tension, including North Korea's nuclear tests and missile firings. Also, The meeting with Richardson comes only one day after Bill Clinton and President Obama met at the White House to discuss Clinton's recent trip to Pyongyang, when he brought back journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee.

*** Bob Novak: The most immediate legacy of longtime columnist/reporter Bob Novak is the Valerie Plame incident. That's too bad. Novak was a trailblazer; he was among the first class of print reporters who made the jump to TV pundit/analyst. Novak opened the door for a lot of folks to walk through over the last 40 years. He was a columnist with a point of view, who grounded his writings with reporting. Too many ideological columnists these days simply spout off. Novak certainly could spout off on the capital-gains tax or the U.S. policy toward Israel, but he spent as much time actually reporting, actually working sources, actually trying to uncover a great political nugget or two. Was there anything more fun to read, as a political junkie, than his Saturday notebook column in the Chicago Sun-Times? Here's hoping some ideological bloggers/columnists out there today truly look at Novak's work in its entirety and learn from his ethic -- which was that you can have more success getting a point of view across if you actually do your homework and do real reporting. And then there were his vests... Nobody could pull off the three-piece suit like Bob Novak (or those red sweater vests at Christmas). RIP.

Countdown to Election Day 2009: 76 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 440 days

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