When it comes to understanding public opinion about the new health reform law, poll watchers might be forgiven for being confused as to whether or not the idea of repeal is actually popular.
Between September and October 2010, at least eight well-respected polls asked Americans whether they supported the idea of repealing health reform. The responses have been all over the map, ranging from a high of 51 percent in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll to a low of 26 percent in September’s Kaiser Health Tracking survey.
Why the range? After a closer look at the data, it seems the culprit may be the question’s wording. At the same time, recent polling suggests that, for at least some Americans, a vote for repeal means a vote to eliminate certain provisions of the health reform law while also keeping many of its benefits, rather than a desire to overturn the entire law.
Timing, administration, and sampling
One might expect that those surveys – which were conducted before several short-term patient protections kicked in on Sept. 23, might have found more support for repeal than those fielded after the big publicity push about these relatively popular provisions. In fact, to the extent that there is a pattern, it’s the reverse, with repeal numbers looking somewhat lower in the three surveys fielded in the first half of September. We can’t attribute the differences to the mode of administration or differences in the sampling population, either: All but two of the surveys were based on random sample surveys of all adults rather than on registered or likely voters – populations that are expected to tilt in a more conservative direction on the issues; the smallest survey has a respectable 721 respondents, and each was administered via telephone using live interviewers, rather than Interactive Voice Technology, the Internet, or other methodologies.
It’s hard to rule out the effects of poll fatigue out based on the data. While it’s true that the two lowest repeal numbers came from the questionnaires that placed the repeal questions at the beginning, before respondents had already gone through a number of other items, the biggest percentage in favor of repeal came from a survey that placed the item at question 14 – hardly as low as some other surveys carried it.
Wording and structure