Here's a theory I'm going to test on our Virginia and New Jersey polls this weekend: Congressional Democrats put themselves at greater risk for next year by not passing a health care bill with a public option than by doing so.
Republicans are already incredibly revved up about the simple possibility of a meaningful health care bill. Are they going to get any more revved up if it becomes a reality? I don't think so. I think the political damage there's going to be to Democrats for doing something on health care has already been done.
Our polling continues to find that the problem for Democrats right now isn't so much that people are switching sides to the Republicans, but that D voters have become sort of complacent/disengaged. There is no greater threat to the party next year than for its voters to feel like getting in power in 2006 and 2008 hasn't accomplished anything, and that their votes didn't really make a difference in policy making. That's when they stay home. So the impact on turnout next year that not doing something meaningful on health care could have is to my mind the greater risk for Democrats right now.
So here's what I'm going to do: ask the standard Congressional generic ballot question, then ask how people would vote for Congress if Democrats passed a bill with a public option, then ask how people would vote for Congress if no health care bill passed at all. We'll see how much difference there is across those measures.