Publication / DecodeDC/ Scripps
May 12, 2014
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Obamacare polls: Wording seems to influence the results

Law’s name or nickname leads to partisan results

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Wording is everything, and apparently that especially holds true when measuring the public’s opinion of the Affordable Care Act.

Washington Post article Monday concludes that opinions on the controversial health care law differ depending on the language used in polls. In other words, the way questions are phrased can influence how people answer the questions.

A CNN/ORC International poll released Sunday found that 38 percent of those polled said they wanted to repeal the health care law and replace it with a new system, or go back to the old days before Obamacare. Sixty-one percent of respondents said they wanted to leave the law as is, or make some changes. Those are good numbers for the White House.

But back in April the numbers were far less positive in a Washington Post/ABC poll. It found that 48 percent of Americans disapproved of the health care law and 44 percent of Americans said the country’s health-care system was getting worse. The post argues that the discrepancy can be blamed on the wording of the different polls, which:

prove how much influence the questions used to test public opinion have on the opinions produced. Frame a policy one way, and you could get wildly different responses than if you framed it another way. One question might please Republicans, while another could inflame them.

Phrases that seem to lower favorability ratings for the health care law, the Post concludes, include the Affordable Care Act,  Obamacare and Barack Obama.

Here’s an example: Compare the results of  an April NBC News and Wall Street Journal Poll that asked people what they thought of “Barack Obama’s health care plan” to numbers from the more recent CNN/ORC poll that did not mention the words Obama or Obamacare.

The NBC poll found that 49 percent of people thought the health care law needed to be overhauled or eliminated, only 38 percent of those polled in CNN/ORC poll thought the same thing. Conversely the NBC/ Wall Street Journal poll found that 48 percent of responders thought the ACA was working fine and needed few adjustments. For the same question the CNN/ ORC poll found that a much larger percentage, 61 percent, agreed.

The NBC polling data also differed from a Kaiser Family Foundation poll that simply called the Affordable Care Act the “heath care law.” The Kaiser poll asked “which would you rather see your representative in Congress do when it comes to the health care law?” The numbers were a full 10 points off from the NBC poll. Fifty-eight percent from the KFF study said they would like to improve the law instead of change it, compared to the NBC poll’s 48 percent.

According to the Post, “The mark of a useful poll about the Affordable Care Act is not referring to the law by its name or nickname. Otherwise, you’re mostly just testing for partisanship.”