I found five polls on the topic conducted within the last month or so. Each poll contains a question about the healthcare reform legislation worded at least somewhat differently from every other poll. Each is located within the particular context of a particular survey. We would therefore expect some differences. There are.
CBS News/The New York Times, AP-GfK, and Pew Research polls found, using different wording, net -12, -5, and -7 point negative over positive reactions.
The one exception to this negative reaction comes from the Kaiser Family Foundation polling on healthcare. Their question is: “As you may know, a new health reform bill was signed into law earlier this year. Given what you know about the new health reform law, do you have a generally (favorable) or generally (unfavorable) opinion of it? [ROTATE TERMS IN PARENTHESES] [GET ANSWER THEN ASK:Is that a very (favorable/unfavorable) or somewhat (favorable/unfavorable) opinion?]”
The results of their most recent survey (Sept. 14-19) show a 9-percentage-point margin in favor of the legislation, 49% with a favorable opinion, and 40% with an unfavorable opinion. This is a significant turnaround from Kaiser’s August survey, in which they found a 2-point negative margin. And, of course, it’s a significant exception from the other four polls on this topic referenced above. The dates of the Kaiser September survey are fairly close to the other polls with the exception of Gallup’s, which is somewhat older.
Here are the ways in which the healthcare legislation is described to respondents:
There is variation here. This includes in particular the fact that Pew uses Barack Obama in its identification of the legislation, while the other poll wordings do not. But I don’t see any highly evident factor in the wording that would, on the face of it, explain why the Kaiser results are positive in contrast to the negative results obtained by the other polls. Some split sample experiments would be helpful to tease out the implications, if any, of different ways of describing the healthcare reform legislation to respondents.
At any rate, we know that healthcare is not at the top of the agenda for Americans. Asked in our September poll to rate how important each of a series of issues will be in their vote for Congress this year, 49% said that healthcare was extremely important, putting it behind the economy (62%), jobs (60%), corruption in government (51%), and federal spending (51%). Healthcare was at least slightly more important, however, than terrorism, immigration, the situation in Afghanistan, or the environment.
Just 6% of Americans mention healthcare in our September update of the most important problem facing the nation today.
On Oct. 13 Gallup and USA Today will be hosting a summit on exactly what it is that the average American wants their federal government to do or be. One new question we will be discussing asks Americans what the government should stop doing that it is doing now. Healthcare reform tops the list. Sign up for the summit to learn more.