Friday, September 20, 2013

Washington Post/ABC News Poll Examines Government-Shutdown Aspect of Obamacare Implementation

A few days ago, I wrote about a Pew Research Center/USA Today poll that attempted to gauge the intensity with which opponents of the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") truly detest the new law. Respondents were first asked if they supported or opposed the ACA, and then opponents were asked the follow-up question of whether they thought political leaders who opposed the law should try to make it work as effectively or possible or make the law fail. Only about a quarter of the sample opposed the law and said they wanted political leaders to try to make the law fail.

A new Washington Post/ABC News poll likewise tries to assess intensity of opposition to the ACA, but this time in a different way. With the possibility looming of a federal government shutdown due to disagreement between the Republican-majority House and the Democratic-majority Senate on how to fund government operations beyond October 1, the Post/ABC poll asked ACA opponents the following question:

Would you support or oppose Congress shutting down major activities of the federal government in order to try to prevent implementation of the health care law?

Presumably, if someone advocates closing down "major" federal government activities -- would which could include no new patients being admitted to some National Institutes of Health medical studies, some veterans' services being unavailable, and delays on processing passport applications -- as a way of blocking Obamacare, he or she must really dislike the law. So how many people want to use a government shutdown to delay, disrupt, or diminish the October 1 opening of the ACA exchanges (marketplaces) for people to sign up? Again, it's about one quarter of them. Overall, respondents to the Post/ABC poll break down as follows:
  • Forty-two percent of respondents support the ACA.
  • Twenty-seven percent oppose the law and want a federal government shutdown to enforce that opposition (i.e., the shutdown is supported by 52% of the 52% who opposed the law).
  • Twenty percent oppose the law, but don't want a shutdown.
  • Five percent oppose the law and are undecided on a shutdown.
  • Six percent had no opinion about the law in the first place.

Another salient theme of the Post/ABC survey is the pervasiveness of respondents' self-claimed lack of knowledge about what is in the law. When asked, "Do you feel that you personally do or do not have the information you need to understand what changes will occur as the new health care law takes effect?," only 35% said yes and 62% said no, with the rest undecided. One might expect a positive correlation between education and feeling informed, but such was not the case. The percentages of those feeling informed were virtually identical among participants with a high school or less education (34%), some college (35%), a completed college degree (38%), and postgraduate education (37%).

Another poll, by Rasmussen, finds stronger support than does the Post/ABC survey for shutting down the government in connection with the ACA: "51% of voters favor having a partial government shutdown until Democrats and Republicans agree on what spending for the health care law to cut." Note that Rasmussen's question-wording arguably softens the impact of the scenario, relative to the Post/ABC wording, in two ways: Rasmussen describes the shutdown as "partial" rather than "major," and asks about cutting spending on the health care law rather than preventing its implementation.


JohnFornaro said...

The WaPo/ABC poll asks about shutting down "major" activities of the government. The polled person gets to decide for herself what "major" means. This decision does not include by definition the NIH medical study example suggested by Mr. Reifman. It is important when reporting on polls, not to include one's own personal preferences in interpreting their results.

Still, the Rasmussen poll asks about a "partial" shutdown of the government. This illustrates what we all know, that poll wording clearly affects the results that the poll would collect. Obviously, the polls themselves can be used to politically game the system and show illusory support for this or that policy.

In another article, the point was made that poll numbers differ significantly when "ObamaCare" is mentioned, rather than the somewhat more accurate "Affordable Care Act" is used in a poll. Certainly, Congress names its legislation to tell stories too. Obviously, the legislation would never had been signed into law had it been deemed the "Unaffordable Care Act".

Throughout the health care debate, the majority of American citizens have disapproved of what has also been called "health care reform". The polls are not being conducted to find out what we want; rather they are being deliberately used to shape opinion, and to give policymakers false impressions of what the American people want.

The polls are, at heart, dishonest because they seek to shape opinion, rather than report it.

alan said...

John makes some good points. My discussion of the possible government services that could be shut down was awkward. First, there was the typo (since corrected) where I said "would could."

More important, my phrasing may have created the impression that the Post/ABC poll gave respondents the specific examples of NIH medical studies, veterans' services, and passport issuance, as government programs that could be shut down. As John noted, respondents were left to interpret "major" activities for themselves, without the examples. My intent, by linking to a Washington Post article on possible services that could be curtailed, was just to give readers of my blog some examples of what "major" government activities might entail.