Moreover, 56.4 percent of people indicated they would prefer Congress to tackle healthcare reform on a step-by-step basis, not take the comprehensive approach as embodied in the legislation that passed the House and Senate last year but has stalled fore the past month.
The polling further underscores the flagging public support for a major overhaul of the healthcare system and reinforces the importance of the bipartisan healthcare reform summit Obama plans for Feb. 25, which could provide Democrats with an opportunity to reassert control over the political debate but could also allow to GOP to keep driving home its message that the Democrats' bills are too big, too costly and too partisan.
Presented with a choice of ways forward, 43.9 percent said Congress should start over, 25.1 percent said Congress should pass some kind of bill and fix it later and just 18.1 percent said they backed Democratic leaders' preferred strategy of having the House pass the Senate bill alongside other legislation to modify it.
Overall, opposition to the Democrats' healthcare reform bill outstrips support by a sizable margin: 50.8 percent oppose the bills compared to 40.3 percent who said they favor them.
Moreover, opponents feel much more intensely about the issues, with 43.2 percent saying they "strongly oppose" the legislation compared to 19.8 percent of people who said they "strongly support" it. In addition, 42.9 percent of people said they oppose the healthcare reform bills more than they did a year ago compared to 32.8 percent who said they were more supportive.
If Obama is counting on his personal appeal and presidential leadership to change the public's views at the summit, the survey findings offer a worrisome appraisal: More than 80 percent of respondents said they heard Obama's remarks on healthcare reform during his State of the Union address but 48.1 percent of those people said it did nothing to change their views.
Despite their misgivings about the bills overall, the poll showed the the public is strongly in favor of some of their key components, such as forbidding insurance companies to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions, establishing a health insurance exchange marketplace, prohibiting women from being charged higher premiums and requiring most employers to provide health benefits.
These same respondents, however, demonstrated resistance to making tradeoffs in exchange for these benefits by stating their opposition to paying more taxes, instituting cuts in Medicare spending or being required by law to obtain health coverage.
Underpinning the findings appears to be anxiety about the economy and concern over the growth of government.
Eighteen percent of people said that Obama and Congress should focus on healthcare reform while 26 percent said the reducing government spending should be priortized and 46 percent identified jobs as the most pressing issue.