Public Opinion Roundup: Going Back to School

We are already well into September, the President is back in the White House, and Congress is in session. As we are re-engaging in the heated public discourse, it's important to know where public opinion stands today, and how it's shifted, if at all, in the past few months. Below is a rundown of important findings on health care reform and from a pioneering survey of immigrants in the US, which were released during the summer.  The focus is primarily on data, which can inform advocates' communications, and strategy.

Overwhelming support for covering all children: new survey by Lake Research Partners for First Focus

Vast majority of Americans support ensuring that all children are covered as part of health care reform, even if it increases their taxes. By a margin of 87%-11%, nearly 8-to-1, Americans favor ensuring all children have health care coverage, including by a 68%-28% margin even if it increases their taxes. By more than a 3-to-1 ratio (78%-21%), voters believe that it is extremely/very important that “all children in America are provided health care coverage as part of health reform.”

A 3-to-1 majority (62%-21%) of Americans would oppose the elimination of CHIP if they learned that the Health Insurance Exchange “may be more costly for families and provide fewer benefits for children.” By a 54-14% margin or almost 4-to-1, Americans would be less likely to vote for a candidate who supported a health care reform plan that reduced the level of health care coverage for children in such a manner.

National telephone survey (n=1000) conducted by Lake Research Partners for First Focus; Released on 8.13.09

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Busting the Practice of Myth Busting

As mounting evidence shows, the practice of busting myths - lining up facts to disprove an opponent's false assertions - just doesn't work.  Most recently, Sharon Begley takes on the practice in Newsweek, exploring why people believe nutty stories about health care reform or supposed controversies about the president's birth certificate.  She reports that, basically, people want to believe what they want to believe and they predisposed to ignoring any facts that clash with those beliefs.  In fact, she finds that we actually go out of our way to find facts that bolster our beliefs.  And most people are not too picky about the source of those facts, which makes the internet an ideal tool for them.

However, it's true that the audiences we want to reach are not usually completely opposed to our arguments and comitted to disagreeing with us regardless of the facts.  Usually, we need to sway the middle, the people who haven't necessarily made up their minds.  Why not line up statistics showing how wrong opposing arguments are for them?  There are a few reasons.  First, even with these groups, facts are not going to be the swaying element of your argument.  If they are leaning toward believing that immigration is generally bad for the country, numbers showing how much immigrants contribute to the economy are not going sway them alone.  It's important, instead, to frame arguments with the basic values that we know our audiences share.  In the case of immigration, fairness is important.  Numbers can then support how, because immigrants pay into a health care system, for instance, it's only fair that they receive the benefits from it.

But with these middle audiences, there is another danger in relying on myth busting, and that's repeating your opponent's argument.  If a series of myth busts say "immigrants do NOT commit more crimes than citizens" or "health care reform does NOT want to kill your grandmother", you have put those arguments back into print once again, with only a measely "not" separating them from your opponents.  Worse, some myth busting sheets repeat the arguments word for word and the refute them.  Research shows that this mainly leaves the bad argument lingering in people's minds, not the counter.  As Shankar Vedantam reports in the Washington Post:

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Hope for Health Care Reform?

Hope for Health Care Reform?

What does the American public want from health care reform? Here are some of the highlights on public opinion research concerning health care covered by the New York Times, CBS, ABC, and the Pew Research Center this June and July.

According to a New York Times article published on Wednesday, July 29th, “Obama continues to benefit from strong support for the basic goal of revamping the health care system.” These findings are reaffirmed both by the July Health Care Reform and the June Debate Over Health Care CBS poll, which show that:

“49% think the system needs fundamental changes, and another 33% think there are so many things wrong with the U.S. healthcare system that it needs to be completely rebuilt. Just 16% say only minor changes. These numbers have been stable for many years.”

Support for government involvement in health care is reiterated in the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press’s May Values Survey.


Why does a majority of Americans believe our health care system can use a serious fix?  The July CBS poll and corresponding analysis reveals that:

“Americans widely worry that health care will worsen if the government doesn't act. Three-quarters of Americans are concerned that their own insurance costs will eventually rise if the government fails to create a system covering everyone. Also, 66% fear they could someday be uninsured themselves without reform. 80% of Americans also fret that the number of uninsured will rise if reform fails.”

Yet, worried as the public seems to be about doing nothing for health care, they are equally apprehensive about the repercussions of the reform being debated today. According to the New York Times:

“69% of respondents in the poll said they were concerned that the quality of their own care would decline if the government created a program that covers everyone.”

And this number is less than the 81% of net concerned individuals measured by ABC in their June Health Care Reform poll.


So where does the consensus on health care reform lie?

Well, for one thing, 79% favor “requiring insurance companies to sell health coverage to people, even if they have pre-existing medical conditions”, and, according to the same  July Obama ratings poll by the Pew Center, 65% favor “requiring that all Americans have health insurance with the government providing financial help for those who can’t afford it.”

No, it is not 100%, but it is a majority – and that’s a start.

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Americans' Perceptions of Opportunity - Findings from the 2009 Pew Research Center's Values Survey

In April 2009, for the 22nd year in a row, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press asked 3,013 Americans for their opinions on questions it has tracked in its Values Survey since 1987 – including perceptions about the nation’s and individuals’ own financial situation, control of personal finances and mobility, views on health care, race relations, government and much more.

Here are some of the public opinion findings relevant to five of six indicators – Security, Equality, Mobility, Voice, and Community– that The Opportunity Agenda uses to evaluate opportunity:



Less people are satisfied with how things are going for them financially. A narrow majority of Americans (53%) agree that they are “pretty well satisfied with the way things are going” for them financially, the lowest percentage recorded since 1987. Two years ago, 61% said they were satisfied financially. A decade ago, amid the economic boom, 68% agreed that they were pretty satisfied financially.

People in the lowest income category (less than $20,000) are more than four times more likely than those in the highest income group ($75,000 or more) to say they often have trouble making ends meet (73% vs. 17%). Opinions about this issue across income groups have held fairly steady in recent years.

The gap in public opinion about financial satisfaction by income groups persists, although the better off are feeling worse off. Today, 65% of those in the highest income category – those with family incomes of $75,000 or more – say they are pretty well satisfied financially, down from 85% two years ago. Just 37% of those in the lowest income category ($20,000 or less) are currently satisfied with their financial situation, unchanged from 2007.

Insurance and Costs

Fully 86% of Americans agree with the statement that “the government needs to do more to make health care affordable and accessible,” including 59% who completely agree. Just 12% disagree.

However, the public remains conflicted about government’s role: nearly half (46%) say they are concerned about the government becoming too involved in health care.



Opinions across income groups about the axiom that: “the rich just get richer while the poor get poorer” are similar across income groups. A large majority of Americans (71%) agree, but while there are somewhat predictable differences across income categories, this view is widely shared: 80% of those with family incomes of $30,000 or less agree with this statement, but so do 62% of those with incomes of $100,000 or more. Opinions about a growing disparity between rich and poor have changed little over the past decade.

Wages, Income and Wealth

Fewer Americans also say the country is economically divided into “haves and have-nots.” Currently, 35% see the country as divided into two groups – haves and have-nots – the lowest level in four years (38% in March 2005), down from 44% last fall. In July 2007, a recent high of 48% expressed this view.

About twice as many blacks as whites (29%) believe the country is split between haves and have-nots, although fewer African Americans believe the country is divided between haves and have-nots than did so last October (75% then, 60% today).

Today, 43% of African Americans see themselves as haves; compared with 35% last October. A narrow majority of whites (54%) continue to view themselves as haves, which is largely unchanged from 2008 (50%).

Perceptions of Black Progress

Far more African Americans than whites or Hispanics continue to believe that there has not been much improvement in the status of blacks. The divide in perceptions between blacks and whites on this question remains nearly as wide as it was in 2007. Currently, 58% of blacks say they have seen little improvement in the position of African Americans in recent years, down from 69% in 2007. Among whites, 26% agree with this statement, a drop of eight points from 34% two years ago. Today, 40% of Hispanics say that there has been little recent improvement in the position of black people, down slightly from 49% in 2007.


Less African Americans agree that success is determined by forces beyond one’s control. 38% agreed in April 2009, compared with 47% in 2007. It is also interesting to compare these views to those measured in the 90’s: 56% of African Americans agreed in 1994, but just 36% agreed in 1997.

Whites’ and Hispanics’ views about this issue have changed little: 30% of Whites agree now, 29% in 2007. A relatively large share of Hispanics (45%) believe that success is largely determined by forces outside of one’s control; this is little changed from 2007 (48%).


African Americans are now significantly more likely than whites to believe that elected officials care about their opinions – the first time this has occurred in a values survey. In 2007, just 36% of blacks expressed this view, while today nearly half of non-Hispanic African Americans (47%) agree with the statement that “most elected officials care what people like me think” – the highest percentage in two decades. By contrast, opinion among non-Hispanic whites has changed little over the past two years (35% currently, 33% in 2007).


The public takes a somewhat less cynical view of government today than it did in 2007. Americans are more likely to believe that government is “really run for the benefit of all the people” (49%, compared with a recent low of 45% in 2007). Positive ratings of the government reached a recent peak of 55% in 2002 – in the year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks – and 57% in 1987 and 1989.

African American opinions about government are now significantly more upbeat than in recent years. Half of blacks (50%) now see the government as being run for the benefit of all Americans – a shift from the more cynical views of government held by African Americans during the Bush administration (37% in 2003) and a return to those held during the Clinton administration (53% in 1997).

Despite more positive attitudes about government responsiveness and effectiveness, there has not been a commensurate shift in support for a broader government mandate. In fact, public support for a government safety net for the poor has receded from a recent high in 2007. The share that believes that it is the government’s responsibility to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves has dropped from 69% two years ago to 63% today, and there have been comparable declines across other items related to government assistance to the needy.

Source: All data and analysis in the paragraphs grouped by indicators was retrieved from the Trends in Political Attitudes and Core Values report by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

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Public Opinion Round Up: Demand for Health Care Reform and of What Kind

As lawmakers consider a sweeping overhaul of the nation's health care system, we analyzed the most recent public opinion findings, and present them below. The highlights include: 1. Demand for major reform of the system immediately, 2. Guaranteeing that everyone has access to health care is very important, 3. Americans live in fear of loosing their health care coverage, and finally, 4. Public attitudes on reform are reminiscent of those in 1993.

Demand for fundamental change or reform of the system now.

86% say that they view health care reform as an integral part of tackling the nation’s economic crisis - survey by the University of Michigan financed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

71% say that the health care system needs to be completely rebuilt (41%) or needs fundamental changes (30%) - Pew Research Centerpoll, June 10-14.

61% say that it is more important than ever to take on health care reform now especially given the serious economic problems facing the country - Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, June.

43% of voters think that their ability to get affordable health care will become worse than before the current economic situation, 30% that it will become better, and 22% that it will go back to the way it was before - ABC News June poll.

1 out of 2 Americans are worried about paying for future care, and one out of four fear of losing coverage in the next year survey by the University of Michigan financed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

What kind of change.

A majority (53%) think that changing the system so that all Americans are guaranteed access to all medically necessary care is a more important goal than finding a way to limit the overall annual increase in health care costs (36%). In 1993, that the results to the same question were 74% to 20% respectively - Pew Research Center.

Prevention oriented health care: 76% of voters believe the level of funding for prevention should be increased. Support is high across the political spectrum, and demographic groups (for instance 86% of Dem, 71% of Rep, and 70% of Ind) -Democracy Corps Survey, May ’09.

72% of Americans state health care is a human right in a ’07 survey of Americans by Belden Russonello and Stewart for The Opportunity Agenda. Extended focus group research among specific demographic groups that make up 60% of the population, indicated that health care is seen as a “basic necessity” for survival like food and shelter, as well as needed to fulfill the human right to “pursuit of happiness.”

Reduction of health care premiums and costs, and security are the most important elements of a reformed system for Americans, including “that no one would ever again lose coverage and no insurance company could drop a consumer or raise rates for pre-existing conditions, health, gender or age” - Democracy Corps June 2009.

Public attitudes on health care and their expectations for reform have not changed. Similarly to 1993:

A large majority wants change. Almost 60% are dissatisfied with the current health care system, and three-quarters say health care should be either completely rebuilt or reformed in major ways. Dissatisfaction is higher among those who lack coverage, unemployed, and married women.

Public wants reform but is risk averse. A large majority is dissatisfied with the health insurance system in the U.S. but only a small minority (24%) is dissatisfied with their own health insurance plans- and here lays the people. Based on focus groups by Democracy Corps following their survey [and by others including research by Belden, Russonello and Stewart for The Opportunity Agenda] are showing people are not satisfied [but rather risk averse] - they have traded off wage increases, stayed in a job rather than leave, paid into a high-deductible plan, and made other compromises so they can have insurance and their choice of doctor when they need it. But that makes those voters who want reform risk averse — they want to confirm key elements in the plan.

39% think that they and their family would be better off if the President and Congress passed health care reform, while 36% think that it wouldn’t make a difference.

The president's plan is favored by a small majority (45%), and opposed by 36%.
The above findings are based on a new Democracy Corps June survey where Stan Greenberg, pollster for Clinton at the tenure of his effort for health care reform, replicated questions he asked in 1993 for the President. Greenberg is convinced that “the country will support comprehensive health care reform — if progressives respect how voters will assess our plans, provide key information about how reform will work (particularly to reduce costs) and if the President carries forward with his educative role.”

Visit The Opportunity Agenda's website for more.

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