Should We Believe Kaiser’s Obamacare Polling, or ‘Something Else’?

Obamacare by from National Review Online, October 2, 2014

New polling finds that, in the context of a conservative alternative being offered, 60 percent of likely voters want Obamacare to be repealed. But the Daily Kos is having none of it. It rejects that polling, which was conducted by McLaughlin & Associates, for reasons that don’t rise to a level that merits refutation. It instead touts a survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation, calling Kaiser “the gold standard” in Obamacare polling.

This claim is worth examining because many Republicans are also under the mistaken impression that they should view Kaiser’s Obamacare polling as the gold standard, or at least as being quite credible. In reality, Kaiser is a pro-Obamacare outfit, and its polling has long shown better results for Obamacare than one can expect to find anywhere else.

For example, in April 2010, the month immediately following the Democrats’ passage of Obamacare over unanimous Republican congressional opposition, Real Clear Politics published eleven polls on Obamacare’s popularity, or lack thereof, from eight different outlets. All eleven polls found that (much like today) Obamacare faced a clear public-approval deficit. On average, those eleven polls found Obamacare facing a 13-point approval deficit (with 40 percent supporting it and 53 percent opposing it), with the specific deficits ranging from five points in Resurgent Republic’s polling (44 percent support, 49 percent opposition) to 21 points in polling from CBS News (32 percent support, 53 percent opposition).

So what did Kaiser (which didn’t — and doesn’t — even make the cut for RCP) show at that time?  Well, Kaiser’s April 2010 Health Tracking Poll said that Obamacare enjoyed a six-point public-approval advantage (46 percent support, 40 percent opposition) — a whopping 19-point swing from the average of the polling listed that month by RCP, and an eleven-point swing from even the most favorable of the Obamacare polls listed by RCP.

Fast-forwarding four years, Kaiser’s September 2014 Health Tracking Poll asked, “What would you rather see your representative in Congress do when it comes to the health care law?” The options Kaiser provided were, “Work to improve the law,” or “Work to repeal the law and replace it with something else.”

Kaiser didn’t provide the option of passing “an alternative to Obamacare,” or “a conservative alternative.” It simply offered up “something else.” Not only could that “something else” be a single-payer system (which might help explain why only 61 percent of Republicans chose that option), but it seems a pretty safe bet that nearly anything — and especially trying to fix nearly anything — would beat scrapping that thing and replacing it with “something else.” Imagine a GOP candidate saying during a debate, “We should repeal Obamacare. And we should replace it with . . . something else.” Moreover, many people who want Obamacare to be repealed in 2017 still want those in Congress to work to try to improve it in the interim. So even those who picked “improve” weren’t necessarily opposed to “repeal.”

By asking the question in this peculiar way, Kaiser managed to get 63 percent of respondents to say they want Congress to work to “improve” Obamacare, while only 33 percent said they favor “repeal” and “something else.”

If anyone still thinks this Kaiser result indicates genuine opposition to repeal — despite Kaiser’s track record and its wording of the question — another result from the very same survey should quickly dispel that notion. Kaiser provided a list of things that congressional candidates could potentially do, asking, “Would [doing that thing] make you more likely to vote for that candidate, less likely, or wouldn’t it make much difference in your vote?” Kaiser listed one of the potential actions someone could have undertaken as, “Voted to repeal the health care law.” By a double-digit margin, respondents said that a candidate’s having voted for the repeal of Obamacare would make them more (41 percent) not less (30 percent) likely to vote for that candidate.

And even this is still a question about straight repeal. If Kaiser had instead asked about repeal in the context of an alternative, its result would likely have been closer to what McLaughlin & Associates found — namely, that voters overwhelmingly want to ditch Obamacare. They’re just waiting for Republicans to advance a winning alternative and thus make repeal a reality.

— Jeffrey H. Anderson is executive director of the 2017 Project, which is working to advance a conservative reform agenda to re-limit government, secure liberty, and promote prosperity.

© National Review Online 2014, Reprinted with permission.