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Public `Accepts' Clinton's Universal Health-Care Plan

THE real question that Americans have about the Clinton health-care proposal is a very personal one and difficult for the White House to answer.

According to White House pollster Stan Greenberg, Americans most want to know whether it will help or hurt their own families.

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``And you can't answer 250 million people's questions about their health care,'' he said at a Monitor breakfast yesterday.

Americans are making up their minds about health-care reform in the midst of much uncertainty, Mr. Greenberg says, where ``they lack and crave information.''

People clearly understand the president's goal of universal insurance coverage and widely support it, even if it means higher costs or less choice, says Greenberg. But they understand very little about how it would work.

Even so, they still support the Clinton plan by 2-to-1 over the status quo, he says. But he notes a sharp drop among Democrats in support of a radical overhaul of the system. As the debate has progressed, he says, some Democratic views have moderated.

Arguments that the Clinton plan creates more bureaucracy and red tape encounters the perception, according to Greenberg, that the current system is bound in red tape.

Public concern over the health-care system has held steady since before the president unveiled his plan last September, and the whole debate is still driven by the public's desire to reform the system, Greenberg says.

But the top public concern has evolved from the economy to crime and moral decline. Greenberg notes a change in the character of the concern over crime as well.

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``It used to be that crime was a surrogate for race,'' he says, meaning that many whites associated criminal behavior with blacks. ``Now it's much more about general moral decline,'' he says, meaning people associate crime with higher divorce rates, single parenthood, working parents with less time for their children, violent entertainment, and other indices of social values. Greenberg bases his view as much on instinct after listening to many focus-group conversations as on specific polling numbers, but he sees the development as healthy.

Crime still represents ``something much larger'' than crime itself, he says.

People are nonideological and nonpartisan about crime, he says. But they want strong action. They support prevention and dealing with root causes of crime, he says, but only in the context of knowing that criminals will be behind bars and heinous crimes will lead to execution.

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