Articles and Analysis


Rising Tide for HCR, Especially Among Dems

Topics: Dennis Kucinich , Health Care Reform , Tom Jensen , Trend lines

When reporters asked Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) today about whether his intention to vote for the health reform bill might convince other doubting Democrats, he answered: "If I can vote for this bill, there's not many people who shouldn't be able to support it."

Kucinich's decision had no effect on the polls conducted earlier this week, and I do not expect his announcement alone to significantly impact public opinion. However, as PPP's Tom Jensen put it earlier today, Kucinich's "flip...is symbolic of a broader shift" that has occurred in recent weeks as support for health reform legislation has increased among liberals and Democrats. The often vigorous debate among Democratic leaders in evidence for much of the last year has faded, and the Democratic and liberal rank-and-file are slightly more likely to express support. If the bill passes, that trend may add a few percentage points of support in the coming weeks.

First, let's look at the current snapshot of the overall trend in support for health reform as measured by our trend chart (as of this writing - click to see the automatically updated, interactive version).


Now let's explode that trend a bit and consider a second chart showing apples-to-apples comparisons -- trend lines for pollsters that tracked opinion using questions whose wording did not vary over time. Six of the seven pollsters show nominal increases in support for health care reform legislation.** While only a few tracked during January, the results from all pollsters are mostly consistent with a slight decrease in support following the Massachusetts Senate election followed by a rebound during February and early January. Our trend estimate, which is based on all of the health care favor-or-oppose results and not just those plotted below, shows support increasing from a low of 40.6% on January 26 to 43.9% as of this writing.


Now consider the pattern in the opposition percentage. Four organizations (Economist/YouGov, Rasmussen, McClatchy/IPSOS and PPP) show nominal declines in opposition since mid-January, and three (Kaiser Family Foundation, AP-GfK and NBC/Wall Street Journal) show nominal increases. Our trend line shows a decline (from 52.3% to 48.8% since late January), since the organizations showing declines have polled more frequently.


It may be just a coincidence, but the nominal declines have also all occurred for organizations whose measures tend to show more opposition, while the nominal increases have occurred among those that typically report smaller opposition percentages.

Nonetheless, the overall point is that while the level of support for health reform varies widely depending on how pollsters ask the question, the trends are reasonably consistent: Most organizations have tracked modest increases in support for health reform.

Also, on some of the most recently released surveys, the increases in support have been larger for Democrats than Republicans.

  • The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows an eight point increase in the number of Democrats saying the health reform bill is a "good idea" since late January (from 56% to 64%) compared to just a four point increase for Republicans (from 6% to 10%) .
  • PPP shows a 13-point increase in support for reform among Democrats since mid-February (from 63% to 76%), but only a one point increase among Republicans (from 10% to 11%).
  • PPP also shows a 16-point gain in support among liberals (from 73% to 89%), compared to a 4 point drop among conservatives (12% to 8%).
  • The most recent Economist/YouGov poll shows a seven point gain in support among Democrats since late January (from 73% to 80%), while Republicans showed no change (11%).***

So the recent increases in support for reform appear to be coming mostly from Democrats. As skeptical progressive like Dennis Kucinich offer their votes for the health reform bill, that trend could continue.

**The Economist/YouGov time series omits the poll conducted in early march (2/28-3/2) that used a slightly health reform question. See my post from last week for more details.

***Thanks to Hart Research and the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll for sharing results by party.

[Note (10:17 pm): This post originally displayed an inadvertently uploaded older version of the Percent Oppose chart that omitted the new polls released this week. Apologies for the oversight]. 



I really much prefer these kinds of graphs to the cross-poll aggregation graphs, which are prone to all sorts of distortions based on when polls are released. House effects, likely/registered voters vs. all adults, and question differences make aggregating and comparing, say, Rasmussen vs. AP - GfK almost meaningless.

What I'd really like to see is more of an aggregated trend line. Pick a point in time, find the delta between favor and oppose for a specific poll and consider this the "offset" and subtract it out. This gives you a baseline for that poll. Now, as new results on the same poll come in, you subtract away the original offset and see the new trend line for that poll (more opposition would see it fall below zero, more support would raise above zero).

With this system you can now properly aggregate and average across polls, as you are comparing like-to-like (movement within a poll). If many polls are showing an increase in support, the trend line will go up and vice versa. It's not perfect as it doesn't reflect absolute support (going from 99% to %85 looks awful but is still overwhelming support), but I think it captures movement much better.

One comment about the actual graphs above - the favorable graph has one more poll (NBC/WSJ) and more data points on two others (YouGov and PPP). I'm hoping that is just an oversight and doesn't affect the results.


Mark Blumenthal:


Good catch. In posting, I somehow uploaded the wrong Percent Oppose chart (an older version that ran last week). I wrote the post around the correct version that's there now, so the results (i.e. my description of the numbers) are not affected at all.

Apologies to all for the oversight.



I appreciate that you noted that you removed the distorted YouGov poll from your second chart. But, in order for your first chart to have a composite approval of 43.9%, you had to have included it there. Removing the YouGov polls changes the approval to 42.8% That is important when you are talking about a 3.3% increase as a significant increase in support. YouGov alone contributes to 33% of that perceived increase in support.

I do statistical analysis as part of my job and I would have used standard deviation to remove the following oddball polls from the comparison: YouGov and NBC/WSJ on the approval side, Rasmussen, YouGov, Kaiser, and AP/GfK on the oppose side. They vary too far from standard and cause a disproportional amount of movement.

I also appreciate that you qualify this as a modest trend (2% - 3%). The movement is there - there is no denying it, as long as you use the beginning date from the lowest level of support. However, if you go back to December 1 - before the temporary dip caused by the Christmas Eve vote, Approve and Oppose have not moved with any statistical significance.

If you move the start back to July 1st, you see a very distinct trend down for approval and up for opposition. My chart shows Approval moving down from 45% to 41% and opposition rising from 50% to 54%. It depends on how granular you want the data to be and what date range you use.

But, has something this enormous and nation-changing ever been passed with only 43% approval before? And, has congress ever passed something this big when they have an 11% approval?

One other thing I would like to see is a third line on the graph that shows the undecided / no opinion. I think you would see that trend line for undecided is running directly inverse to the trendline for opposition whereas approval is nearly steady. Might not mean anything but it seems significant.


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