Poorly Worded, Lack of Context, Bias: The Flaws in Medicare for All Polls, Coverage

Pollsters Should Use Clear, Unbiased Wording, and Journalists Should Put Results in Better Context

Poll after poll finds that Medicare for All continues to be widely popular and is supported by most Americans. However, the validity and reliability of the polling on Medicare for All and other health reform efforts vary widely as does the accuracy of reporting on such polls.

It is important for both the public and journalists to look closely at the substance of the polls and not side with the health care industry through using biased wording or talking points when discussing results. A new Public Citizen fact sheet lays out these flaws.

POOR WORD CHOICES 

Occasionally, polls use confusing or purposefully negative wording, which – unsurprisingly –drives down support for Medicare for All.

For example, Gallup has been using a misleading question since at least 2010: “Which of the following approaches for providing healthcare in the United States would you prefer – A government-run health care system or a system based mostly on private health insurance?” This question is a poor way to gauge support for Medicare for All. Medicare for All is not “government run;” hospitals and doctors’ offices would remain privately owned. Instead, care would just be government funded, an important distinction. Such wording is also often used by health care corporations to hurt support for the policy.

INCREASING POLARIZATION

Despite huge amounts of corporate spending on ads attacking Medicare for All, robust support among Democrats has remained consistent and even increased in recent months while Independents’ support has remained constant.

An August 2018 Reuters/Ipsos poll even found that a majority of Republicans supported “A policy of Medicare for All when it comes to the U.S. healthcare system.” However, support for Medicare for All among Republicans has declined significantly since President Donald Trump and the GOP increased their attacks on health care expansions of any kind, with particular animosity toward Medicare for All.

Since August 2018, GOP support for Medicare for All has dropped, with only 24% supporting it in a January 2020 Kaiser Family Foundation poll and 14% of Republicans supporting it in a December 2019 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. The increased polarization in health care polling is shown not just in the decline in Republican support, but also can be seen in an uptick in Republicans reporting positive feelings about their current health care though likely nothing has changed in their coverage.

Reporters should be aware of the distinction that overall drops in support are due to decreases in support only among Republicans.

LACK OF CONTEXT

As with any polling, pundits and politicians often cherry-pick the stats that best make their case instead of presenting a more accurate picture.

For example, looking at the period from June 2017 to January 2020, a Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll found that in response to the question, “Do you favor or oppose having a national health plan, sometimes called Medicare-for-all, in which all Americans would get their insurance from a single government plan?” between 51% and 59% of Americans expressed support and between 37% and 47% expressed opposition. Journalists often report on just one of the monthly polls, which can present a misleading picture when a clear majority of Americans have supported Medicare for All since at least June 2017.

A BETTER WAY

While polling is crucial for helping us understand the opinions, concerns and preferences of the American public, it is essential that results are accurately interpreted and fairly presented. Going forward, pollsters should be sure they use clear and unbiased wording, and journalists should make sure to put results into context.

For more than 45 years, Public Citizen has called for legislation that would guarantee health care for all. To speak with a Medicare for All policy expert, or if you have questions about the fact sheet, please contact Mike Stankiewicz at mstankiewicz@citizen.org, or (202) 588-7779.