By Jan Werner
(With Jan's permission, I am reprinting a commentary originally distributed to the American Association for Public Opinion Research's listserv discussion group.)
Today's NY Times Week In Review section fills some unsold space with yet another rehash about poll results differing because of question wording, this time in the context of opinions on health care reform.
At the same time, the front page of that same section has an article on the expected costs of failure to enact some kind of health care reform.
This brings up the issue of why the media polls keep asking the same questions with slight variations of wording, instead of doing serious digging into just what people know about health care reform and what they want, or fear, from it.
Even the Kaiser Family Foundation tracking polls, while far superior on health care topics to anything one gets from the usual media suspects (NYT, ABC, Pew, etc.), mainly focus on the political affiliation of respondents rather than whether they have health care coverage and, if so, where it comes from and what it costs them.
Why don't we see questions about the source of respondents' health care coverage, the percentage of their income it consumes, how that amount has changed over time and how they expect it to change in the future, how much they know about rising health care costs and why they are rising? And why don't we see crosstabs by that kind of information rather than just by the same Dem/Ind/Rep political breakdowns?
One answer comes from Bob Blendon of the Harvard School of Public Health, via Trudy Lieberman, who writes on health care reporting in the Columbia Journalism Review.
Obviously, if only insurance companies are willing to sponsor serious research into what drives opinions on health care reform, then they are going to be the main beneficiaries of what that research reveals.
[Editor's Note: Quinnipiac has sporadically used respondents' type of health insurance -- none, Medicare/Medicaid, or private -- as a grouping factor in crosstabs, as seen here. Other pollsters may have done similarly, but I can't locate other examples right off the top of my head.]