After the summer of hate, the public option as a feature of health care reform has once again gained popularity and possibly even the support of a majority of Americans according to a new poll conduced by ABC News and The Washington Post.

The issue which has been the most contentious is the concept of a public option. In June, 2009 almost 62 percent of those polled favored a public option. That number crashed to a skimpy majority of 52 percent during the heat of the summer but has steadily risen to 62 percent now being reported.

The numbers change quite dramatically when certain restrictions are put in place. Seventy-six percent of Americans would support a public options, if:

•The plan (whatever plan is eventually passed) is run by the states, and

•The plan is made available only to those who lack affordable private options.

With those two caveats in place, even a majority of Republicans would be in favor of it. For Republicans, that represents almost a doubling of their level of support.

What does affordable coverage mean? Two groups which had offered strong resistance to the public options are seniors and independents. Within these groups the idea of a public option if run by the individual states and offered only to those who cannot afford private health insurance is gaining support.

The country remains divided over health care reform as a whole package. The complexity of the proposals and the over-the-top rhetoric from both sides have made the general population a bit wary and certainly weary.

The administration has to face one troubling aspect of the most recent poll. The president’s approval rating on health care reform is slipping among Democrats. Strong Democratic approval of his handling of the issue has dropped 15 points since mid-September.

The numbers underscore the fact that health care reform still has a long way to go.

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