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Same question (sort of), but different results

August 19, 2009 - Jim Anderson
In polling, slight but deliberate changes in wording can produce dramatically different results.

Last month, the Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a modest experiment as part of far-reaching health poll.

One of the Kaiser questions involved the idea of establishing a national single payer health insurance plan, often referred to as “Medicare for all.”

Proponents of single payer are frustrated that the mainstream media gives little credence to the idea, even though many polls suggest considerable public support.

In the Kaiser poll, one sample group was asked if they would favor or oppose “having a national health plan in which all Americans would get their insurance through an expanded, universal form of Medicare for all.”

Thirty-four percent strongly favored the idea and 24 percent somewhat favored it. The total positive response, then, was 58 percent.

A second sample group was asked if they would favor or oppose “having a national health plan — or single payer plan — in which all Americans would get their insurance from a single government plan.”

In this case, 24 percent strongly favored the idea and 27 percent somewhat favored it, for a total positive response of 51 percent.

Basically, the questions offered the same idea. But support was greater for “Medicare for all” than for “single payer.”

In a Daily News column earlier this week (“To tell the truth,” Aug. 17), I discussed the fact that both Congress and President Obama have deemed single payer as politically impossible.

I cited a Time Magazine poll, also conducted last month, that asked:

“Would you favor or oppose a program that creates a national single-payer plan similar to Medicare for all, in which the government would provide health care insurance to all Americans?”

Results were 49 percent in favor and 46 percent against. Challenging numbers, yes, but impossible?

More recently, a Rasmussen poll indicated that a majority of Americans now oppose single payer. The Rasmussen poll asked:

“Do you favor or oppose a single payer health care system where the federal government provides coverage for everyone?”

Results were just 32 percent in favor, and 57 percent opposed.

Has opinion shifted that much in a matter of weeks? Notice the subtle differences in the Rasmussen question. They’re crucial.

The Rasmussen query not only abandons “Medicare for all” as a description, it drops the word “insurance.” Also, it introduces the term “health care system.” And, in place of “all Americans,” it uses the word “everyone.”

Is it a stretch to suggest that an on-the-fence respondent unfamiliar with “single payer” would find the Rasmussen description ominous?

Depends on who you ask, I’m sure.


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