Saturday, March 13, 2010

HC Reform Polling a Bit Better in Early March

As health care reform approaches crunch time in the U.S. House, recent national polling seems to suggest more favorable public attitudes toward reform than in prior weeks. On generic questions -- asking whether respondents favor or oppose health care reform without reference to specific provisions -- support levels seem to be creeping upward and opposition, downward.

One of the most detailed analyses of these trends comes from's Mark Blumenthal, whose March 10 essay reports support for health care reform (averaged over multiple polls) rising from roughly 40% to 44%, and opposition falling from the low 50s to 48%. For maximum rigor, Blumenthal also plots within-pollster trends over time (i.e., comparing all Rasmussen polls to each other; all Gallup polls to each other, etc.). I had thought about examining pollster-specific trends, but Mark beat me to it. When polls are examined in this manner, declining opposition appears to be a more powerful trend than does rising support.

Blumenthal cites another detailed report, from Democracy Corps (an outfit headed by pollsters and political operatives long associated with the Democratic Party). The Democracy Corps analysis covers some of the same terrain, but also delves into other matters, such as the popularity of individual components of health care reform legislation. (D-Corps' Footnote 2 states that Rasmussen polls were excluded for being "extreme outliers;" some analysts have excluded Economist/YouGov polls, as well, for being outliers in the opposite direction, which Democracy Corps does not do. Hence, the group's claim of increasing momentum for health care reform might be considered somewhat overstated, although movement in a pro-reform direction is clearly there.)

Despite the trends described above, there are still contrarians. Pat Caddell and Doug Schoen, who in the past have worked as pollsters for Democratic presidents, recently argued in the Washington Post that "the battle for public opinion has been lost. Comprehensive health care has been lost." I found the piece to be a lot heavier on conjecture ("If [reform legislation] fails, as appears possible, Democrats will face the brunt of the electorate's reaction. If it passes, however, Democrats will face a far greater calamitous reaction at the polls") than on hard empirical data.

Moreover, some of Caddell and Schoen's empirical claims (e.g., "a solid majority of Americans opposes the massive health-reform plan" and "the American public is overwhelmingly against this bill in its totality") seem inconsistent with recent polling data (the aforementioned averages of 44% support and 48% opposition). I guess it depends on how one defines a "solid majority" and "overwhelmingly."

Caddell and Schoen cite polling to the effect that a higher proportion of health care reform opponents than of proponents report feeling strongly in their position. In this instance, I think their characterization is generally valid. Two points in response are warranted. First, many supporters may be less than ardent due to their belief that the final legislative proposals have been watered down too much (see the discussion of opposition from the left, in earlier postings on this blog). Second, as Public Policy Polling's Tom Jensen contends, "The vast majority of opposition to health care and allowing gays to serve openly in the military is coming from people who already say there's no chance they'll vote Democratic this fall. That's an indication of minimal fallout for Congressional Democrats by acting on these issues."

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