Monday, November 30, 2009

Ipsos Polling Executives Discuss Health Care Surveying

In a guest posting over at Pollster.com, Cliff Young and Aaron Amic of Ipsos Public Affairs and the Ipsos McClatchy Poll, offer their wisdom on issue (as opposed to election) polling, with a specific focus on health care reform. The following passage captures this point:

...in presidential elections, our job as pollsters is made easy with ballot questions being basically fixed after the primaries. Simply put, we know which candidates will be running. This, in turn, all but defines our ballot question for us.

In contrast, issues like healthcare reform are quite fuzzy as no bill typically exists at the beginning of the process. This makes the construction of a single question impossible if not simply disingenuous.

Put another way, we have no "true value" to measure against- no concrete bill exists (or at least did not exist until recently). You can't measure what doesn't exist!


Young and Amic note the distinction between general items (e.g., "Do you support or oppose the health care plan...") and specific ones (pertaining to a public option, employer mandates, etc.). However, they appear to see both as reflecting primarily broad underlying values rather than truly crystallized opinions. Again, some passages:

Are... generic questions valid at all? We think they are but with caveats.

Indeed, before the final bill, such questions seem to be nothing more than a measure of optimism about the reform process, much like "right track, wrong track" questions. Looking forward to a final bill, we do expect that such generic questions will become relevant. Only then will they have a "true value" to be measured against.

...questions which reference specifics like the "public option" are hypothetical and have to be understood as such. Indeed, without a final bill, they should be used more for sensitivity analysis than anything predictive-which policy measures garner more support, which ones less so...

To this end, we have tracked specific items for most of the healthcare debate. Here we understood that healthcare reform would be fundamentally a debate about the role of government (or lack thereof). All of our items fall along a government intervention continuum. In our experience, polling on "fuzzy" issues places a premium on understanding the underlying value cleavages related to the policy debate at hand. At its essence, healthcare reform is a debate about the proper role of government.


(The reference to "sensitivity analysis" implies to me that items are used only to see if they make broader trends move upward or downward, and not because of any substantive message they convey; see here for further description.)

Notice, however, that Young and Amic seem to be saying that with emergence of the final bill, the responses to both general and specific items will now take on greater substantive clarity, like responses to whether someone in 2008 was going to vote for Obama or McCain.

Color me skeptical. Given the vast number of provisions likely to be in the final health care reform bill, the complexity of many concepts, and the partisan spin we're likely to hear from politicians on both sides of the ideological divide, I would still expect citizens' impressions of the final bill to convey broad values rather than fine-tuned judgments.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Via Pollster.com's "Thanksgiving Outliers," here are three articles on health care reform.

Ruy Teixeira argues that a lot of the polling we see on health care reform "tends to be duplicative and doesn’t really tell us anything new." One exception, Teixeira claims, is polling on Americans' support for promotion of preventive behaviorsto reduce the incidence of illnesses such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

John Sides conducts a re-analysis of Quinnipiac polling data (with cross-tabs provided to him by the poll's directors that were not in publicly released reports), focusing on whether respondents support a full, undiluted public option, oppose direct enactment of a public opinion but support a trigger, etc. His main conclusions:

...about one-third of the sample supports the “pure” public option [with no state opt-out or trigger]. A slightly smaller group, roughly 30%, supports a “qualified” public option that features either an opt-out provision or a trigger. About 20% of the public oppose the option, but would support it with an opt-out provision. Thirteen percent oppose it but would support it with a trigger. Finally, there is a “diehard” group of public option opponents, who are about 20-25% of the population.

Finally, Jonathan Chait looks at the possible strategic angles behind Republican/conservative politicians' and commentators' interpretations of health care polls.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Opposition to Health Care Reform from the Left (11/17)

As shown in this Pollster.com graphic, public support for President Obama and the Democrats' health care reform plans has consistently been around 45% (plus or minus a few percent) for several months, whereas opposition has consistently approached 50% for the past few months.

That nearly all recent polls show opposition exceeding support -- albeit often by small margins -- may lend some credence to Republican Senate floor leader Mitch McConnell's claim over the weekend that the country does not want the pending legislation and that Democratic efforts to pass it are at their own peril.

In a technical sense, McConnell may be right. However, the implication that conservative opposition to the Democrats' bills is carrying the day does not appear to be correct.

A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll (in the field November 13-15) obtained a typical finding, namely that 46% favored the U.S. House's recently passed "bill that would make major changes in the country’s health care system," whereas 49% expressed opposition. However, CNN asked this follow-up question to respondents in the opposition camp: "Do you oppose that bill because you think its approach toward health care is too liberal, or because you think its approach toward health care is not liberal enough?"

Responses broke down as follows: 34% opposed the bill because they considered it too liberal; 10% opposed it because they felt it was not liberal enough; 3% opposed it for other reasons; and the remaining couple of percent apparently did not endorse a reason. One can thus conclude (within the usual confines of the margin of error) that 56% of Americans favor either the House-passed version of health care reform or something further to the left. (Thanks to Pollster.com discussant "Wong" for pointing out this finding.)

I just did some Google searching on the CNN/ORC question wording for the item that asked opponents why they didn't favor the bill, and I could not find any previous instances of this question being asked. Without such a question, we would not know whether opposition to the Democrats' health call bills was monolithic or diversified. Now, we have a pretty good idea.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

October trends in support for health care reform are examined by Mark Blumenthal and by the team of Robert Blendon and John Benson, the latter also featuring comparisons to 1994.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Gallup distills its polling on health care reform into five major themes (hat tip).