The right-leaning political-analysis group Resurgent Republic recently issued a brief synopsis of national polls, arguing that a trio of issues -- consumer costs, increases to the federal deficit, and reduced quality -- are responsible for holding down support for President Obama's and the Democrats' proposed health care reform legislation (hat tip). I, too, have examined similar issues (here and here), and there are many ways to look at them.
Survey items about cost and quality generally offer respondents three choices: will reform plans under consideration make things better (i.e., reduce costs, raise quality), make things worse, or leave things unchanged? The thrust of my argument today is that the "leave unchanged" category offers useful information and should be incorporated into any analysis of poll results. Here are some examples of what I'm getting at:
Resurgent Republic (RR) says: “The CBS/[New York] Times September poll also found that only 19% believe the proposed changes will affect the cost of health care for the better.”
That figure is absolutely correct. But, if one looks at the full CBS/NYT report, one sees that in addition to the 19% who are optimists, 27% of respondents say costs will get worse, 22% say it will stay the same, and 28% claim not to know enough about the issue to comment. Among those offering an opinion, 60% thus feel health care costs will either get better or stay the same:
(19 + 22)/(19 + 27 + 22)
RR: “Only 14% believe the proposed health care changes will increase the quality of their own health care (CBS/Times 9/19-23).”
Percentages for the other answer choices were 30% worse, 32% same, and 21% don’t know enough. Thus, by the same calculation method as shown above, 61% of those offering an opinion say the quality of their own care will either get better or stay the same.
RR: “In the ABC/[Washington]Post surveys in August and September, 2x the number of voters believe health care costs will worsen instead of improve should health care reform pass (ABC/Post 9/10-12 and 8/13-17).”
Indeed, as documented at Polling Report's compendium of health care surveys (go to page 2 of PR's health care page), RR's statement is spot-on. For the September ABC/WP poll, 20% believe their health care costs will change for the better, 40% for the worse, and 38% feel these costs will stay about the same. Because there are so few "don't knows" in this polls, I won't bother to subtract them out. What we get is that 58% of respondents feel their costs will either come down or stay the same.
Just a few more. In the September 11-13 CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll (results of which I found at Polling Report), the findings were as follows:
"From what you know of the health care reforms which the Administration is working on, do you think the amount you pay for medical care would increase, decrease, or remain the same?" Fifty-one percent replied that these costs would either decrease (16%) or remain the same (35%), whereas 47% thought they would increase.
"From what you know of those health care reforms, do you think you and your family would, in general, be better off, worse off or about the same?" Sixty-four percent said they'd either be better off (21%) or about the same (43%), whereas 35% said they'd be worse off.
In fairness to RR, they do on occasion frame their statements in a way that suggests a large percentage of respondents either think things will get better or stay the same: “NBC/WSJ surveys find that a plurality of voters (36%) believe their health care quality will worsen as a result of the President’s plan.”
There we have it. Consistent majorities -- oftentimes around 60% -- feel health care costs and quality will either get better or stay the same. Admittedly, the "stay the same" category is driving much of these results. Still, even if many American consumers feel their health care costs and quality will only stay the same (and not improve), that arguably is a good deal for a program that will provide health insurance for all or most of the 47 million Americans who currently lack it.