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Healthcare: 'Losing the Message War?'

Topics: Gallup , Health Care Reform

Is Obama losing the message war on health care? That was the question implied by my post yesterday, and it's the question that Chuck Todd and his colleagues at First Read ask this morning.

First, the anecdotal evidence via First Read:

Perhaps the biggest thing that stood out to us at President Obama's AARP town hall yesterday was that the White House appears to be losing the message war on health care. How do we know? Just listen to the questions the AARP callers had. Several of them asked about "rumors," and they also brought up GOP talking points on "rationing" or the government coming to your house to ask how you want to die (!!!).

Next, some new results from Gallup. They asked a national sample of adults to "what would happen" to medical care, access to care and costs -- for the nation a whole and for them personally -- "if Congress passes a new healthcare reform law." Here are the results in a summary table (full question text in the jump below).

2009-07-09_gallup_HC.png

The results confirm the anecdotal impressions of the First Read crew. Nearly twice as many Americans think their own costs would increase (34%) rather than decrease (18%), while more Americans think the reforms would worsen (29%) rather than improve (21%) their own access to medical care. Bigger numbers believe the reforms would expand (47%) rather than reduce (29%) "access to healthcare in the U.S.," but even that result is not exactly positive given that expanding access to health insurance is the one goal that nearly everyone supporting some form of "reform" seems to agree on.

The question I would most like to ask at this point is open-ended: "What, in your own words, have you heard or read about the health care reforms being proposed by President Obama?" I suspect that what little Americans have heard focuses on the trillion-dollar-plus price tags for the legislation and the vague notions of "takeover" and "socialism" being repeated endlessly by Republicans and conservative pundits. But it would be helpful if a media poll asked a question or two to confirm it.

Update: A new poll from Time out this afternoon includes similar results. Even though they see continuing "enthusiasm for the prospect of reform," they find "deep skepticism" about the details:

By significant margins, survey respondents said they believe the final health-reform legislation is likely to raise health-care costs in the long run (62%), make everything about health care more complicated (65%) and offer less freedom to choose doctors and coverage (56%).

Update 2: Thanks to Pollster reader sfcpoll for flagging the July tracker from the Kaiser Family Foundation released last week that we, inexplicably, missed. Apologies to all for that.

As I've noted previously, the Kaiser Foundation surveys are typically the most comprehensive on the subject of health care and this latest tracker is no exception. The found a majority of Americans continuing to support the goal of reform and large majorities expressing support for a "variety of methods of expanding health insurance coverage, including Medicaid expansion (74 percent), an individual mandate (68 percent), an employer mandate (64 percent) and a public plan (59 percent)." See their summary of "key findings" for details.

However, they also updated both their general and specific questions about how Americans perceive the impact of reform for the county and for themselves personally. Here are the highlights from Kaiser:

BUT THE SURVEY ALSO SUGGESTS THAT CRITICISMS OF THE SPECIFIC LEGISLATION BEING FORMULATED IN CONGRESS ARE REGISTERING WITH THE PUBLIC AND SUPPORT IS SOFTENING

The survey finds that more Americans are worried that Congress will pass a reform bill that's not good for their family (54 percent) than are worried that health care reform won't happen this year at all (39 percent) . While the data make clear that Republicans are driving the concern (67 percent worry that Congress will pass a plan that will negatively impact their family), there is also a substantial amount of concern among Democrats (45 percent) and political independents (54 percent).

The survey also suggests that support has been softening across a variety of opinions related to reform:

o Reform now: While most Americans (56 percent) say the country's economic problems make health care reform more important than ever, this is down 5 percentage points from last month.

o Will you be better off? The percentage who believe they will be worse off if health care reform passes - 21 percent - is nearly double what it was in February, while the percent who think they will be better off (39 percent) has not changed much since then.

o Will the country be better off? There is a similar pattern on views as to whether the country will be better off if health care reform passes. In this case, the proportion who think the United States will be better off is down 8 percentage points since February while the proportion who think the country will be worse off is up 11 points over the same time period.

While last month Republicans were divided on whether the country would be better or worse off (33 percent vs. 34 percent, respectively), they now tilt decisively toward the negative. Democrats still overwhelmingly think health care reform would benefit the country (65 percent), but their level of optimism is down 11 percentage points from last month.

The Kaiser survey also includes a battery of questions (tracked from February) similar to the ones from Gallup discussed above. I created the table below to show the July results, which are generally similar to what Gallup found, although the Kaiser respondents were not as pessimistic about the impact on the costs of healthcare, both generally and to them personally.

2009-07-29_KaiserBetterWorse.png

Tracked from February, these measures show the same pattern that the Kaiser analysts note about their more general questions. The "better" numbers are about the same, while the "worse" numbers are consistently higher.

Text of Gallup questions:

Now I'd like to ask you a few questions about what would happen if Congress passes a new healthcare reform law - just based on what you read or have heard:

(Q1-3 asked of a half sample, n=485 adults):
1. Would a new healthcare reform law improve, not change or worsen medical care in the U.S.?
2. Would a new healthcare reform law expand, not change or reduce access to healthcare in the U.S.?
3. Would a new healthcare reform law increase, not change or reduce healthcare costs in the U.S.?

(Q4-7 asked of half sample, n=559 adults):
4. Would healthcare reform improve, not change or worsen your own medical care?
5. Would healthcare reform expand, not change or reduce your own access to healthcare?
6. Would healthcare reform increase, not change or reduce your own healthcare costs?

 

Comments
RS:

I wonder if the problem is that Obama himself has been rather vague on healthcare reform. He's clear on what the current system will do: double costs over 10 years, increase premiums, reduce access. But what about the reform bill(s)?
Here's where Obama faces a problem - he doesn't want to tell Congress what to do because WH (dominated by Clinton-era officials, starting with Rahm) is haunted by the failures of 1993. But has anyone *ever* heard any coherent message out of Congress? By it's very nature, Congress = multiple horses pulling their own way. That's why (I believe) it's easy for Republicans to ridicule/criticize Obama's efforts without offering a concrete counter-proposal.

At this point, we know even Grassley won't vote for any reform bill - or maybe I am burnt by his action on the stimulus package. So Obama and Rahm should gather the Congressional Democrats into a large room at the White House, and make them an offer they can't refuse, Chicago-style. If Obama can't fulfill one of his signature campaign promises with a Democratic legislature, it truly will be his Waterloo.

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sfcpoll:

There certainly hasn't been much data showing an upward trend in support for any major item of health care reform. Part of this may be that there hasn't been a ton of good news about the legislation- the CBO testimony, failure to pass anything in either chamber, etc. Since things are changing so much day-to-day on the hill, keeping track of these and making assessments like Gallup is asking are pretty difficult.

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sfcpoll:

Along those lines- Kaiser finds that more people are seeing ads about health care, and in July about as many saw negative ads as positive ads, compared to June when there was a more than 2-1 ratio in favor of positive ads being viewed - press release http://www.kff.org/kaiserpolls/upload/7945.pdf

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Mark Blumenthal:

sfcpoll:

Thank you for the comments and especially for the Kaiser link. No idea how we missed it last week, since I've been anticipating the July KFF track. I've grown to reliant on their helpful email alerts, which (for some reason) didn't get to us this week.

I'll post an update to this post shortly, but the Kaiser survey includes a battery very similar to the Gallup questions above. Results are mostly similar and show only marginal change since February.

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