Guest Pollster | October 18, 2007
[This Guest Pollster's Corner contribution comes from Lydia Saad, Senior Editor of The Gallup Poll, responding to criticism posted earlier today by Alan I. Abramowitz.]
Alan, I see your point about how Gallup's question explaining the difference between Bush's income threshold and the Democrats' threshold could have confused respondents. You overlook the fact that we set up the question with this introduction to the series: "As you may know, Congress is considering a bill that would increase the number of children eligible for government subsidized health insurance, but the Democrats in Congress and President Bush disagree on how much to increase the program." But your point is well-taken.
However, our question measuring concern about the Democrats' bill being a step toward socialized medicine isn't "biased" -- it was intentionally written to convey Bush's counterargument. That was the intent -- to test the strength of socialized medicine as a counterargument. And indeed we found a slim majority willing to say they are concerned. We didn't conclude from this that Americans think the bill WILL lead to socialized medicine. As you note, we merely said that Americans are sympathetic to the argument: "Americans are also generally sympathetic to Bush's concern about the program leading to socialized medicine."
It is always a challenge to write clear and balanced questions about complex policy issues. Along those lines, I would go further than your critique of Gallup, and submit that all of the public polling on SCHIP I've seen thus far can be criticized in one regard or another. Yesterday I saw this question by CNN which seems to suggest that SCHIP is a new $35 billion program for children in middle income families, and that Bush opposes the program. I see what CNN was trying to do (isolate the question to the program expansion) but their wording just doesn't succeed at accurately describing what the veto/override conflict is all about.
26A. As you may know, President Bush vetoed a bill passed by Congress that would create a program to spend 35 billion dollars to provide health insurance to some children in middle-income families. Do you think Congress should vote to create that program by overriding Bush's veto, or do you think Congress should vote to block that program by sustaining Bush's veto?
The ABC question you applaud is another reasonable attempt, but still conveys the sense that the policy choice is between supporting the Democrats' plan and not providing any insurance coverage for "millions of low-income children." And since they ask if Congress should vote to override Bush's veto, they should have a follow-up asking what should happen if that override fails: i.e. Now that Bush has vetoed the bill, should the Democrats and Republicans in Congress work together to pass a new compromise bill, or should they let the program expire?
Otherwise we are just falling into the same political traps the Democrats and Republicans are setting for each other, and not really finding out what kind of government sponsored children's health care coverage Americans want for the country.
Americans probably don't have a great command of the details of the SCHIP debate, but half say they are paying very or somewhat close attention to it. That's about the midpoint for public attention to policy-debates in Washington. Americans clearly have some opinions worth tapping, and the challenge is to probe further for a more thorough and accurate understanding of whether Americans would rather have the existing program that covers families earning up to twice the poverty level, or whether the program should be expanded to include families earning more than that. Separately, we can find out who Americans would blame if the program expires: Bush for vetoing the congressional bill, or the Democrats for not being willing to pass a compromise bill.
None of the polling I've seen thus far -- neither on a question by question basis, nor in its totality -- answers those questions for me.
Senior Editor, The Gallup Poll