Thursday, August 27, 2009

Age-Group Comparisons (8/27)

There's been a lot of discussion of how seniors, who already are on Medicare, appear to be the least supportive age group of President Obama and the Democrats' plans for enacting health care reform. Seemingly at the center of seniors' concerns is the idea of cutting federal support for a program called Medicare Advantage. According to a Los Angeles Times article:

Although scaling back payments would have no effect on a sizable majority of Medicare users, it would create an opening for opponents to make the blanket allegation that the president wants to cut back on Medicare benefits -- as some Republicans are already starting to say.

Also, of course, seniors were more likely to vote for John McCain in last year's presidential election than were younger voters, who went overwhelmingly for Obama.

The diagram below (which you may click on to enlarge) compares different age groups' attitudes toward health care reform in four recent polls. Compiling these percentages was not as easy as I thought it might be, for a variety of reasons. First, only some pollsters make a public release of cross-tabulations between demographic characteristics and health care-related attitudes (other pollsters reserve such cross-tabs for paid subscribers). Second, age cross-tabs on a common attitude item were not always available. My plan was to use general favor/oppose items toward Obama and the Democrats' reform plan, but such an item was not always available so I had to substitute other types of items, as described below. Third, different pollsters use different cut-points to create their age groups. There's always a youngest age group, for example, but some pollsters bracket it from 18-29 whereas others use 18-34; similar discrepancies exist for other age groups, as well.

Having said all this, the pattern of seniors showing the least support for Obama/Democratic reform plans is clear and well replicated. For any given color of bar (purple, light blue, green, or orange; each representing a different pollster and question), the shortest height is with the seniors.

One other thing to notice is that two polls, ABC/Washington Post and The Economist/YouGuv, only reported on a 30-64 broad middle-age group rather than having two groups like other pollsters; whether groups in the lower and upper halves of the 30-64 age range were combined because they did not differ much in their responses, or the pollsters never broke 30-64 year-olds into smaller subsets, I don't know. For these two polls, I have taken the percentage on the respective attitude measures attributed to 30-64 year-olds and plotted them twice (linked by a light-blue or green horizontal line), where a 30s-40s group and a 50s-60s group would ordinarily go. Now that these "housekeeping" matters are out of the way, here are the question wordings used:

Survey USA (Aug. 19): “Now I am going to tell you more about the health care plan that President Obama supports and please tell me whether you would favor or oppose it. The plan requires that health insurance companies cover people with pre-existing medical conditions. It also requires all but the smallest employers to provide health coverage for their employees, or pay a percentage of their payroll to help fund coverage for the uninsured. Families and individuals with lower- and middle-incomes would receive tax credits to help them afford insurance coverage. Some of the funding for this plan would come from raising taxes on wealthier Americans. Do you favor or oppose this plan?”

ABC/Washington Post (Aug. 13-17): “Reform’s supported by 58 percent of adults under age 30, but 44 percent of 30- to 64-year-olds and just 34 percent of seniors, apparently concerned about its potential impact on Medicare” (this quote comes from an article and does not depict the actual survey item).

Economist-You Gov (Aug. 16-18): “If President Obama and Congress pass a health care reform plan, do you think you personally would receive better or worse care than you receive now?" (% Saying Better).

Kaiser Family Foundation (Aug. 4-11): “Do you think you and your family would be better off or worse off if the president and Congress passed health care reform, or don’t you think it would make much difference?” (% Saying Better).

The four polls above were not the only ones that made some type of age-related comparison. Others did, as well, but their age groupings and/or survey items appeared non-comparable in some way to the four polls whose results I plotted. Two additional polls are as follows:

A Harris Interactive poll used what I think are the most interesting age-group descriptors (shown in Table 2 of the linked document): "Echo Boomers (18-32), Gen. X (33-44), Baby Boomers (45-63), Matures (64+)." Harris plotted the percentage of respondents in each age group who rated Obama's job performance in various issue domains as "fair" or "poor." On health care, higher percentages of Matures (71%) and Gen. X (69%) gave Obama these unflattering ratings than did Echo and Baby Boomers (each 62%). Along with some of the figures from other polls plotted above, this finding from Harris shows a non-linear trend (i.e., support does not decline in perfect progression from the youngest to the oldest voters).

Finally, a Penn, Schoen, & Berland poll released in conjunction with AARP reported only comparisons between respondents younger than 50 and 50-plus. A section of this poll's report entitled "Specific Policy Proposals" (on pages 6-7) is perhaps the most worthy of attention. On most of the items, the younger respondents are more favorably inclined, but on others, there is little or no difference.

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