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Myth of “death panels” persists, poll shows

August 3, 2010 - Jim Anderson

Two recent polls on health care reform show drastically different results.

According to the Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, unfavorable views of the health reform law have trended down since June.

The Kaiser survey, conducted July 8-13, shows that 50 percent of adults have a favorable view of the law, while 35 percent have an unfavorable opinion. Overall, 27 percent say the law should be repealed.

On the other hand, Rasmussen Reports says voter pessimism towards the health care bill has reached an all-time high. According to the Rasmussen survey, only 32 percent say the health care plan will be good for the U.S.

The Rasmussen poll, conducted July 30-31, finds that 57 percent of likely U.S. voters say the health care law will be bad for the country. And 59 percent of all voters favor repeal, according to Rasmussen.

Wow ... 27 percent favor repeal in one poll compared to 59 percent in another.

One important distinction in the polls is this: The Kaiser survey is a random sample of adults 18 and older, while the Rasmussen survey is a random sample of likely voters.

A poll that is restricted to likely voters will contain a larger sampling of senior citizens than one that does not. And that apparently accounts for a portion of the gap.

In the Kaiser survey, only 38 percent of respondents 65 and older had a favorable view of health reform (compared to 50 percent overall), while 46 percent had an unfavorable view (compared to 35 percent overall).

The Kaiser poll shows that many people continue to have misconceptions about the bill.

For instance, among the population as a whole, 41 percent said they believed the law "allows a government panel to make decisions about end of life care for people on Medicare." An additional 16 percent said they didn't know.

Among seniors, 36 percent said the law allows the so-called death panels, while another 17 percent said they didn't know.

The persistence of the belief in death panels is worrisome, says Drew Altman, president and chief executive of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“It’s not only that it is the most egregious misconception, but it shows how debate about public policy can be manipulated in the echo chamber of the ... news cycle with apparent lasting effect,” Altman writes.

According to the Kaiser poll, those seniors with an unfavorable view of health reform were also more likely to be misinformed. For instance, 55 percent of seniors with an unfavorable view of the law accepted the death panel myth, compared to 17 percent with a favorable view.

Would the views of health reform opponents change if they were more accurately informed?

“We can’t say for sure,” Altman says. What is clear, he adds, is that moving into the election cycle misperceptions “remain profound.”


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