Poll after poll shows that Americans are negative about Obamacare but like the idea of the “public option”–which, of all the components of the president’s plan to have the government intrude into the nation’s healthcare system, is the most government-intrusive of all?
How can this paradox be? Jay Cost, blogging for RealClearPolitics offers an answer: most of the polls phrase the public-option question in weasel words that make the concept seem appealing. For example, there’s the very phrase “public option,” instead of the more accurate “government-run health insurance.” Who doesn’t like the idea of another “option” on the smorgasbord of medical plans? Words such as “choose,” “choice,” and “compete” also figure in the questions that have generated clear-majority favorable responses in polls generated by Marist, ABC/Washington Post, CBS/New York Times, CNN, Rasmussen, and others.
The words “choice” and “compete” spell out what Cost calls “the Democratic argument” on the public-option issue. But one pollster, Rasmussen, framed an additional question usng words from “the Republican argument” that the public option will drive private health insurers out of business, leavng America with a single-payer system like those in Britain and Canada:
Suppose that the creation of a government-sponsored non-profit health insurance option encouraged companies to drop private health insurance coverage for their workers. Workers would then be covered by the government option. Would you favor or oppose the creation of a government-sponsored non-profit health insurance option if it encouraged companies to drop private health insurance coverage for their workers?
Whoa–support for the public option nearly evaporates, with 60 percent of Americans saying no!
These results are very consequential. After all, Rasmussen is holding a lot of factors constant, enabling us to observe: same poll + same methodology + different frame for the question = different answer. That strongly suggests that the frame used for the public option question goes a long way in determining the answer the public gives.
So, does this mean that the public is actually against the public option? I’d say no. Instead, I would suggest that the public lacks sufficient information about that specific item to deliver a firm opinion. Accordingly, its opinion varies depending upon question wording, priming effects, the ebbs and flows of the news cycle, and so on.
And for a cogent Wall Street Journal editorial homing in on the efforts of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her left-wing congressional allies to ram the public option down Americans’ throats whether they like it or not, click here.