The source of the fear is inside Congress, not out there in America:
Over the past week, the public option has made an unexpected comeback. As of this morning, 23 Democrats had signed a letter asking Reid to add it into the bill during the reconciliation process. The White House and the Senate leadership both said that if the public option had the votes, they wouldn’t oppose its inclusion. But privately, most of the offices were saying the same thing: We don’t want to oppose the public option, but we don’t want to reopen the public option debate.
But they signed the letter anyway. They described it as a collective action problem: If everyone signed it, Democrats had a serious problem on their hands. But no one individual wanted to oppose it.
It would be fair, at this point, to ask why Democrats would have a problem if they attempted to pass the public option. The public option is popular policy, it’s good policy, and it energizes the base. The problem is that it’s not popular policy with the handful of conservative House and Senate votes that you need to push this bill over the finish line.
I’m not defending these arguments. I don’t think conservative Democrats will pick up even a single vote if the final plan doesn’t include a public option, while I think they’ll probably gain a few if their base feels like they won something big this year. Nor have I seen any evidence that Americans will reward Democrats for being bipartisan if Republicans refuse to cooperate with the strategy. But that’s the thinking.