Dueling Polls on Health Care

The New York Times trumpets its own CBS/NYT poll which, it says, shows “Wide Support for Government-Run Health.”

Americans overwhelmingly support substantial changes to the health care system and are strongly behind one of the most contentious proposals Congress is considering, a government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurers, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

The poll found that most Americans would be willing to pay higher taxes so everyone could have health insurance and that they said the government could do a better job of holding down health-care costs than the private sector.

Wow. So the American people are longing for socialized medicine? Maybe not. As always with polls, you have to read the fine print. Here is who answered the pollsters’ questions:


Since Obama won the election by a 53%-46% margin, the poll obviously skews left. That is reflected in the relative proportions of Democrats and Republicans as well. The Times claims that its poll shows a surprising degree of bipartisan support for government-controlled health care:

[I]n the poll, the [government-run insurance] proposal received broad bipartisan backing, with half of those who call themselves Republicans saying they would support a public plan, along with nearly three-fourths of independents and almost nine in 10 Democrats.

But wait! If the poll does a lousy job of randomly selecting between Democrats and Republicans, what reason is there to believe that it somehow represents a valid cross-section within either of those groups? Whatever caused the poll to skew left, it obviously resulted in sampling a remarkable number of “Republicans” who say they voted for Barack Obama. A bad poll, in other words, is a bad poll, and you can’t draw any valid conclusions from it.

Coincidentally, Rasmussen polled the question of a government insurance plan at almost exactly the same time, and got very different results:

Forty-one percent (41%) of American adults believe it would be a good idea to set up a government health insurance company to compete with private health insurance companies. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that an identical number (41%) disagree.

This is an “all adults” poll, not a “likely voter” poll, so it should be an apples-to-apples comparison with the NYT/CBS survey. You can draw your own conclusions about what the conflicting results mean.

Actually, what I think is most striking about the Times’ poll is the lack of any real enthusiasm for socialized medicine. A large majority of respondents in that survey think that major changes need to be made in our health care system. Yet 77 percent are either very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with their own health care, and 63 percent are “very” or “somewhat” concerned that government medicine will make their own health care worse.

Somehow, many Americans (although not, I suspect, a majority) have been persuaded that government-run health care represents a kind of moral imperative, even though it will likely prove worse and more expensive than the health care we enjoy now. This strikes me as profoundly stupid: how can there be a moral necessity to make our health care system worse, just so we can all be in the same boat? Yet in many countries that kind of leveling argument has proved successful, and it might at some point be here, as well.

UPDATE: In the comments, Van Dillon notes:

Of course we won’t all be in the “same boat,” will we? They have already added an exemption for Congress and federal employees (see section 3116). If the Affordable Health Choices Act isn’t good enough for them why should we believe it will be good enough for the rest of us?


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