The ACA and the Flaw in Public Polls

One of the things you notice in all of the polling data about the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is that the overwhelming majority of people support most of the actual things it does while a smaller majority still oppose the bill. A new analysis of that data points at an explanation:

Jon Krosnick, Wendy Gross, and colleagues at Stanford and Kaiser ran large surveys to measure public understanding of the ACA and how it was associated with approval of the law. They found that accurate knowledge about what’s in the bill varied with party identification: Democrats understood the most and liked the law the most, independents less, and Republicans understood still less and liked the law the least. However, attitudes were not just tribal. Within each party, the more accurate your knowledge of the law, the more you liked it.

Krosnick and colleagues found that most people favor most of the elements of the ACA, but not everyone recognized that these elements were all in the plan. Many people also have false beliefs about the plan. For example, only 42% of Americans correctly understood that the law does not provide free treatment for illegal aliens. Only 21% of Americans approve of this imaginary feature of the plan.

This suggests that if the public understood the ACA perfectly, support for the law would be higher. Based on their model for how knowledge about the ACA is associated with approval for the law, Krosnick and colleagues project that in the unlikely case in which the public had perfect understanding of the law, “the proportion of Americans who favor the bill might increase from the current level of 32% to 70%.”

This is why I don’t really take public polls seriously when it comes to complex issues. Only a small percentage of those polled could possibly understand the issue with the depth required to have an informed opinion. What such polls really measure is the effectiveness of the two sides in selling a story to the public. Such stories are often built on lies about the data and dishonest framing of the narrative. This becomes obvious when you take a poll on whether people support the Affordable Care Act vs whether they support Obamacare. The numbers for the former are higher than the latter.

Polls on such subjects don’t measure public support, they measure public ignorance.

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  • John Pieret

    Polls on such subjects don’t measure public support, they measure public ignorance.

    Unfortunately, public ignorance controls our elections.

  • http://artk.typepad.com ArtK

    I’m sure that you could get a majority of Republicans to agree with the following statement: “We should repeal Obamacare and instead strengthen the Affordable Care Act.” High-information voters all, I’m sure.

  • moarscienceplz

    This is why I don’t really take public polls seriously when it comes to complex issues. Only a small percentage of those polled could possibly understand the issue with the depth required to have an informed opinion.

    AND…polls usually aren’t about a single topic, AND they often don’t ask simple yes/no questions. They will phone you during dinner and ask you 20-30 questions, each with 5 predefined (and often long-winded) answer choices. And when you ask for clarification of some point you find out the pollster is some minimum wage warm body who is simply reading from a script. If you can get through 20-30 minutes of that while your dinner grows cold and have any confidence your point of view has been correctly recorded, I want some of whatever you are smoking.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    It’s doubly problematic that explaining “why Obamacare” and “what Obamacare is” takes thirty pages, in comic form, while poisoning it simply takes two words.

    Worse, thanks to the inefficient government bureaucracy of unelected, unaccountable government bureacrats of the government, I can’t even get my Death Panel scheduled!.

  • scienceavenger

    What such polls really measure is the effectiveness of the two sides in selling a story to the public. Such stories are often built on lies about the data and dishonest framing of the narrative.

    Yes, and thanks to Citizens United, and the effectiveness of advertising, the stories that seep into the pubic consciousness are the ones backed by the biggest pile of gold as they completely drown out any objective voices.

  • whheydt

    Some of the comments above are parts of why I decline to answer polls. If they want my answers, they can pay me for them. My rates are modest: $50 per question, with 50% up front just to make sure they’re serious.

    However, in two cases in the past I did so. In one case, it was the relatively small town I lived in finding out about support for an infrastructure bond issue (sewers and storm drains, primarily) and the city employee asking the questions was completely taken aback when I commented that, if the city did routine maintenance, there would be little to no need for large bond issues–and the resulting interest costs–making it considerably cheaper to have everything in good condition. Apparently, the concept of “preventative maintenance” is an alien idea in city government (and likely state and Federal as well).

    The other survey was as a test subject done for a friend who had a part time job for a prestigious academic polling center. On an number of questions, I stated that I knew nothing about the subject at hand and–therefore–had no opinion about it. She got an incredulous response back after submitting the test results. The organization refused to believe that *anyone* would express a lack of opinion just because they were unfamiliar with the subject of the question. Therein lies, I think, the problem with a lot of polling. To wit…people will express opinions of subjects on which they are completely ignorant. How can you make a valid analysis in such cases? And how can you weed out the totally uninformed from those who have at least a nodding acquaintance on what you’re polling about?

  • kenbakermn

    Another problem is that no one asks, what portion of those who oppose ACA already had affordable health care?

  • neonsequitur

    Among respondents who held/hold false beliefs about the ACA, it would be enlightening to ask WHERE they go their (mis)information.

    OK, I admit it. We already know this one. Thanks a shitload, FOX.

  • busterggi

    Public ignorance is beyond measure.

  • Artor

    I would be a lot more happy with the ACA if it helped me at all. As it is, the plans available to me are still expensive, have enormous deductibles, and don’t cover the things I need covered. It ends up being another big bill I have to deal with, and won’t do much to help me in a medical emergency, or with general health maintenance. If our next president is able to get real single-payer health care instituted, I will consider them the best president EVAR!

    Fuck RomneyCare.