Does the Public Really Support a “Public Option”?

Posted on October 23, 2009


There has been alot of hoopla lately about how the “public option” is gaining support among the population.  The ABC/Washington Post has been touted this week as proof the numbers are rising.  But Real Clear Politics (RCP)  takes a look at the recent polls and finds out that the buzzwords used in the poll questions seem to make all the difference.

RCP asserts that the average person answering polls is not your typical “political junkie”.  This person is someone who might be marginally familiar with the term “public option,” but may not have a clear view of what this term actually means.  The term in itself has become a generic term for health care reform.  They quote  Kellyanne Conway from a piece in National Review:

Asking an under-informed public in a poll about “public option” is incomplete. It calls for a response to feel-good phraseology rather than a probing of underlying ideology. “Public option” in health care is not so different from “campaign finance reform,” “Violence Against Women’s Act,” “revenue enhancements” or for that matter, “world peace’ and “no rain this Saturday.”

RCP then continues:

The pollsters are using plenty of “feel-good phraseology.” ABC News/WaPo presents the idea that the government insurance plan would “compete” with private insurance plans. This is a contested notion, as Republicans think that the public option will drive private insurance away.

Marist uses the phrase “public option,” which has become the conventional term for this insurance reform – but is nevertheless an intentionally constructed phrase designed to garner maximum public support. “Government-run health care” is foreboding, but “public option” is inviting.

CNN uses the phrases “public health insurance option” and “compete.”

When terms like “compete,” “public option,” “choose,” and “public health insurance option” are used, support is high.  

But, when Rasmussen polls with the Republican position question of a “governement-sponsored non-profit health insurance option” which causes companies to drop their private insurance for their workers, the numbers drop signficantly.  In this case almost 60% disapprove of a “public option”.  

Once again the poll questions make the poll more than the answers.  The case for a “public option” is definitely not closed when those polled don’t even have a clear understanding of what it is they are being asked about.

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Posted in: Health Care