Several recent polls have focused on national support for a public option, usually showing that support to be at levels that would translate to hefty electoral margins even greater than those the Democrats secured in 2008. However, we don't have a direct, but a representative democracy.
While the House has passed multiple health reform bills supporting national health care sentiment, the Senate has been especially resistant to including a public opinion in the final bill. In large part, this is likely the result of low-cost media markets in small states allowing corporations to disproportionately effect the outcome of their elections and often countermand even the will of the state's voters, whose contributions and lobbying efforts can be more easily, and cheaply, overwhelmed.
But to the extent that public opinion matters, and I would hope it does, it's harder to argue with its measure as expressed by actual vote totals than it is to argue with polls.
According to the 2008 census estimates, there are 304,059,724 people living in the United States and 131,257,328 voted in the 2008 election. This is the latest Senate whip count for the public option, a total of 50 Senators are now on the record as favoring the inclusion of a public option in the health care bill. So presuming that Vice President Biden will still vote for a health finance reform bill as per his campaign stance, and that none of the Senate Democrats will filibuster a bill that includes a public option (which none of them are known to be planning), there are now enough votes to pass health reform with a public option.
How does their support line up with their voting constituents and the general public? Inspired by Jed Lewison's breakdown of electoral support for the public option within the Finance Committee, I looked at 2008 census estimates and the US election atlas' 2008 results to put these numbers together:
|Senator||State||Population||Senate Split||Total Pres Vote||% Obama||# Obama Votes||Last Senate (Re-)Election*|
As you can see, of the 30 states these 50 Senators represent, 20 of them are represented by two Senators supporting the public option. Those 20 consensus states and their 40 Senators represent 153 million people, slightly over half the total US population.
Around 57 percent of voters in these 30 states voted for President Obama, who campaigned on a platform that included a public, not-for-profit, health coverage option. Of President Obama's 69,456,897 votes nationwide, voters in these 30 states accounted for 76 percent of his haul.
People voted for change in this election, and the party they chose has been campaigning nationally, and loudly, on a universal health coverage platform for several years. The Senate should give us what we voted for. It's the popular thing, and the right one.
* Election results in parentheses are listed for the immediate predecessor where the Senator is an appointee, all listed appointees replaced other members of the Democratic party.