How Americans Really Feel About Healthcare Reform

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What do Americans think of last year’s healthcare reform law? Here’s the Washington Post today:

More Americans oppose health-care law, but few want a total repeal

Overall, Americans’ views of the sweeping health-care overhaul, again under debate on Capitol Hill, remain firmly entrenched, with little change in stiff partisanship on the issue. Some 45 percent of those polled support the law, and 50 percent oppose it, numbers that exactly match their averages in Post-ABC polls going back to August 2009.

This is really starting to bug me. The headline and the text are, in some hypertechnical sense, correct. But here’s the actual breakdown of opinion:

I think it’s pretty plain that the people who “oppose” healthcare reform because it doesn’t go far enough are, in any meaningful sense, in favor of the law but think it doesn’t go far enough. In other words, about 58% of respondents support healthcare reform and 37% oppose it. This explains the apparent paradox that 50% of respondents oppose healthcare reform but only 37% want to repeal all or part of the law: it’s because only about 37% truly oppose it in the first place.

I’m perfectly willing to concede that polling on this question is quirky and variable. Depending on how the question is asked and what the followups are, you can get a lot of different responses. Still, there’s a pretty clear difference between people who genuinely oppose healthcare reform and those who only “oppose” it because they preferred Medicare for All or something like that. What’s more, we’ve now seen this result often enough that there’s no real excuse for not presenting it more meaningfully. At the very least, there’s no excuse for not asking the question in a way that takes all this into account.

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