FDL/SurveyUSA, 1/16-1/18, 600 likely voters, margin of sampling error ± 4.1%

If there were an election for US House of Representatives today, and the only two candidates on the ballot were Democrat Tim Bishop and Republican Randy Altschuler, who would you vote for?

Likely Voters Republicans Democrats Independents
Tim Bishop (D) 47% 19% 70% 36%
Randy Altschuler (R) 45% 74% 25% 61%
Undecided 8% 7% 5% 4%

Representative Tim Bishop (NY-01) holds a very small lead against potential Republican challenger Randy Altschuler,  47% to 45% in a new SurveyUSA poll sponsored by Firedoglake.

Bishop’s is one of the suburban districts that Democrats will struggle to hold in 2010, and securing them will be key to retaining a Democratic majority in Congress.  Altschuler is a well-funded challenger with more than $776,000 in his campaign fund and the ability to self-finance. He has already started running campaign ads in the district.

Looking deeper into the numbers, Altshuler’s support might be slightly stronger than the poll numbers indicate. His support among Republicans is 66% to Bishop’s 23%, with 11% undecided. Those relatively weak numbers among Republicans could be due to the fact that he will likely face a primary challenge from George Demos.  If he consolidates the Republican undecideds, his numbers would be much stronger against Bishop.

President Obama’s very low approval numbers in the district (42% approve, 53% disapprove) could be a drag on Bishop. Bishop won in 2006 with 61% of the vote and in 2008 with 58% of the vote. The district has a PVI of +0, whereas Driehaus had a D+1 and Snyder’s was R+5.  Recently the NY-01 had been rated “lean Democrat” by the Cook Political Report, whereas Snyder and Driehaus — who both trail their GOP opponents by 15 points according to the Survey USA poll — were listed as “tossups.”

Individual Mandate

Like in the past two districts polled (AR-02, OH-01) the individual mandate was not popular when people understood that it would be accompanied by a fine of up to 2% of their annual income for failure to comply. 50% of voters think a requirement for everyone to carry insurance is a good idea, while only 44% think it is a bad idea. But when asked if they supported an individual mandate that would result in a fine for not carrying private insurance, support fell sharply:

Thinking about the proposal that requires everyone to either carry private health insurance or be fined, are you strongly in favor, somewhat in favor, somewhat opposed, or strongly opposed?

Likely Voters Republicans Democrats Independents
Strongly In Favor 18% 8% 31% 13%
Somewhat In Favor 22% 18% 29% 20%
Somewhat Opposed 16% 16% 15% 18%
Strongly Opposed 41% 55% 22% 48%
Not Sure 3% 4% 1% 1%

Adding a choice of being able to buy into a government-run public alternative caused support for the individual mandate to increase dramatically — even among Republicans. Opposition dropped sharply, from 57% to only 33%:

If the bill required individuals to have health insurance, but gave them the choice of buying health insurance from a private insurance company, OR buying into the government run Medicare program … would you be strongly in favor, somewhat in favor, somewhat opposed, or strongly opposed?

Likely Voters Republicans Democrats Independents
Strongly In Favor 37% 27% 57% 33%
Somewhat In Favor 29% 29% 25% 23%
Somewhat Opposed 10% 16% 4% 12%
Strongly Opposed 23% 31% 10% 29%
Not Sure 3% 4% 3% 3%

The results are very similar to a Maine poll sponsored by HCAN last September.  That poll also showed the the individual mandate was very unpopular unless accompanied with the choice of a public option.

Interestingly, the voters in the New York’s first district were effectively as opposed to an individual mandate to buy private insurance as they were to having the bill increase the payroll tax to provide everyone with government run health insurance.

The individual mandate requiring people to buy private health insurance remains extremely unpopular in swing districts. Giving people the choice of buying into a government run alternative instead of private health insurance significantly reduces opposition to the individual mandate among all groups polled. Not only is a public option very popular as a stand alone policy, but it also makes one of the most unpopular aspects of the bill — the individual mandate — much more palatable with voters in this district.

Since adding the public option or expanding Medicare in reconciliation is one of the only viable ways to pay for the deal on the excise tax without raising taxes, something that the White House and Congress have agreed to, its popularity in this close district is a positive sign for those who still hope to see health care reform passed.

Full crosstabs available here.