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Let's stop polling for every action, inaction and reaction

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As we near the end of the general election (can I have an “Amen!”) it is safe to say that, post-Election Day, no American will yearn for one more political ad, alleged debate, press conference or most of all, one more poll.

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For the last two years, it seems that every action, inaction and reaction has been polled.

Opinions, as someone once noted, are like elbows; everyone has a couple and some are sharper than others. We have more than enough polling organizations to accommodate both varieties. We have no shortage of uninformed individuals answering intentionally (and unintentionally) poorly written poll questions, and pollsters who seem to be getting it wrong more often than not.

Consider the late-night TV show host who recently did a “man on the street” type interview with historical questions. Almost everyone had answers and nearly all of them were wrong! My favorite was when they asked what James Madison’s wife’s name was. Most of the interviewees said — with great certainty — that her name was Ashley. Google “Ashley Madison.” She was most certainly not James’ wife.

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The pollsters’ predictions are no better than the replies. Polling close to the 2012 election indicated that Mitt Romney would win a narrow victory over Barack Obama. In 2014, polls were certain that Mitch McConnell would lose his Senate seat. That same year, Scotland decided not to divorce itself from Great Britain — despite polls clearly showing the opposite.

This year, the polls made it clear that there was no way our British cousins were going to leave the European Union. Then, of course, Brexit happened.

In February of this year, NPR, along with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Opinion, issued the results of a survey titled “Patients’ Perspectives on Healthcare in the United States.” Reading through it for nuggets of information became an exercise in frustration.

As I read, I kept thinking about an earlier Kaiser study about a complete lack of health insurance literacy among vast majorities of the population. The survey asked the opinions of folks who couldn’t tell a copay from a deductible, or coinsurance from maximum out-of-pocket amounts. It is no wonder that the basic finding is that most patients are happy with their own personal care, but are less optimistic and more concerned about healthcare in general.

I guess it is similar to the annual survey about Congress, where constituents generally like their Congressman or Senator, but think all those other guys are a bunch of hapless boobs and that Congress itself is as useless as a submarine in the Sahara. The survey results are challenging, but reflect the current confused (or at a minimum, conflicted) state among consumers. Most adults believe their health care costs are reasonable, but they don’t believe they get good value for what they pay toward the cost of their care.

According to the survey, adults in the U.S. are much more positive in their feedback when it comes to the health care they personally receive as patients than they are about their state’s or the nation’s health care system. In fact, most respondents rated the nation’s overall health care system as fair or poor.

Respondents were also divided about national health reform. Those who believe that the law helped people in their state and those who believe the opposite are approximately equal in number. Interestingly, on a personal level, most Americans do not believe the law directly affected them. Among those who do, though, more believe the law directly hurt them than helped them.

So there you have it. Americans like the system and they don’t. They think it helps and that it doesn’t; that it is priced fairly and that is priced unfairly. Against this backdrop two things seem certain. First, that we will not soon come to a national consensus about the direction of our health plans and second, that we will be dancing around the may/may not poll for quite some time to come.

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