When Obamacare Polls Are Accurate Without Being True
As Republicans form a circular firing squad, nervous Democrats continue to believe that this is a depressing time when the future of Obamacare is on the line.
There is some reason for worry: the Koch brothers are spending millions trying to get young people to “opt out” of seeking health insurance at the state level, which could wreck the risk pool essential for the program’s success.
But young people, who as a group support President Obama, aren’t likely to buy Koch lies. And Hollywood progressives are about to unveil a strange-bedfellows alliance with insurance companies that will spend tens of millions of dollars telling Americans the truth — that they are better off with Obamacare being fully implemented.
Meanwhile, the chances of the Affordable Care Act being defunded in Washington are between zero and none, as many Republicans are now acknowledging. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) doesn’t have the votes for his strategy of threatening a government shutdown over Obamacare, and everyone but Cruz knows it. Karl Rove wrote an impassioned plea to Republicans not to use this “ill-conceived tactic.” Some analysts believe a government shutdown, which would almost certainly be blamed on the GOP, could even give Democrats an outside shot at winning back the House in 2014.
So why the jitters on the left? At least part of the explanation lies in polls on Obamacare that have been misunderstood or stripped of context. Over and over, Americans have been told that the public doesn’t support the president’s signature achievement. This is true in only the most literal sense of the word. It turns out that the idea behind the new law — universal coverage — is backed by a strong majority.
To get a sense of how the media are misreporting the story, consider a September 15 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. As David Weigel has noted in Slate, this is one of the most reliable polls around. It found public widespread ignorance about the law, which will be implemented beginning October 1, and a high level of skepticism about Obamacare’s ability to improve people’s lives The poll reported that 30 percent of respondents thought it would have a negative impact on their families and only 12 percent were convinced it would be positive. More than half felt — accurately — that it would have no impact on their families.
But those weren’t the results that made headlines. It was the overall figure — 43 percent support Obamacare and 54 percent oppose it — that received wide coverage, just as similar poll numbers have in the past.
This is a classic example of something being accurate without being true.
As New York Times columnist Charles Blow has noted, a new CNN/ORC Poll shows that while 35 percent of the public (the conservative base) oppose Obamacare because it’s too liberal, 16 percent oppose it because it isn’t liberal enough.
In other words, 59 percent of the American public either supports Obamacare or wants it to go further.
This casts an entirely new light on the health care debate and further isolates the obstructionists. They are now exposed as radicals who believe in extortion rather than elections — a fringe group of what John McCain in another context called “wacko birds.”
More evidence to bolster that point comes from a CNBC poll that shows the public opposed to cutting off funding for Obamacare by 44 to 38 percent. If it meant a government shutdown, nearly 60 percent oppose defunding. Surely if a majority opposed the idea of Obamacare, a similar majority would oppose the funding of it.
Liberals are justifiably upset about the way public opinion has been misreported on this issue, and most of the blame rests with reporters who don’t probe the internals of polls deeply enough.
But progressives have a role to play in changing the way the polling looks.
Longtime supporters of a single-payer system (I am among them) need to stop telling pollsters that they don’t like Obamacare, even if its provisions seem inadequate to them. Otherwise they will continue to be lumped in with Tea Party types and depicted as standing against a landmark achievement that liberals have been seeking since universal coverage first appeared in Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressive Party (Bull Moose) Platform of 1912.
Photo: LaDawna’s pics via Flickr.com