Public Option a Loser, Choice a Winner
A bipartisan NBC News poll shows that only 36 percent of Americans think “Barack Obama’s health care plan” is a “good idea” even though 51 percent approve of the job he is doing as president. In the same survey, 43 percent favor “creating a public health care plan administered by the federal government that would compete directly with private health insurance companies,” which 47 percent oppose.
A new poll, conducted by SurveyUSA for hard left MoveOn.org, finds that 77% believe it extremely important (58%) or quite important (19%) that “any health care proposal” passed “give people a choice of both a public plan administered by the federal government and a private plan for their health insurance.”
Disclosure: My wife is Chief Operating Officer for Public Opinion Strategies, which conducted the poll along with Hart Research Associates. I have not discussed this poll with Bill McInturff or anyone on his staff and only discussed it with my wife to determine whether POS had issued any statement on this controversy; they have not.
HuffPo’s Sam Stein correctly notes that the key word here is “choice.”
While arguments about what type of language best describe the public option persist –“choice” is considered a trigger word that everyone naturally supports — it seems clear that the framing of the provision goes a long way toward determining its popularity.
Question wording is one of the factors that clearly matter in these things. Previous iterations of the NBC/WSJ poll included the word “choice” but pollsters Hart and McInturff decided two cycles ago to drop the word, resulting in a rather steep drop in support. Recall, though, that Peter Hart is a very prominent Democratic pollster and the two have teamed up for the survey precisely for the purpose of ensuring that the surveys weren’t tilted to favor on side’s views over the other.
It strikes me that “choice” here is loaded and likely to skew the results. The new wording describes exactly what the policy change would be: ”creating a public health care plan administered by the federal government that would compete directly with private health insurance companies.” The public plan run by the government is what’s new. Further, it competes with private insurance. So, the choice is prominently mentioned without using the word “choice.”
Conversely, “give people a choice of both a public plan administered by the federal government and a private plan for their health insurance” is essentially a double barreled question, a classic error in polling. Why? Because one could quite reasonably both vehemently oppose a public plan and yet think it important to have the choice of keeping their existing plan were a government plan to emerge. Many opponents of the public option, then, might give an affirmative answer to the question on that basis.