ABC and the Washington Post has released a new poll that is sure to get a great deal of attention, as opponents of a public health care plan will use it to claim that the public doesn't really support such a plan. Many reporters will, no doubt, interpret it the same way. But the poll's actual wording appears to stack the deck against a public plan.
Here's how the Post described the poll results:
Survey questions that equate the public option approach with the popular, patient-friendly Medicare system tend to get high approval, as do ones that emphasize the prospect of more choices. But when framed with an explicit counterargument, the idea receives a more tepid response. In the new Post-ABC poll, 62 percent support the general concept, but when respondents were told that meant some insurers would go out of business, support dropped sharply, to 37 percent.
So, it sounds like the ABC/Post poll asked whether people support a public option like the "patient-friendly Medicare system," then asked if they still support a public option if it meant some insurers would go out of business, right? The Washington Post presents this as framing the question "with an explicit counterargument."
But that isn't really what the poll did. Here's the actual wording of the two questions:
21. Would you support or oppose having the government create a new health insurance plan to compete with private health insurance plans? (IF SUPPORT) Would you rather have that plan run by a government agency, or run by an independent organization with government funding and oversight?
21a. (IF SUPPORT) What if having the government create a new health insurance plan made many private health insurers go out of business because they could not compete? In that case would you support or oppose creating a government-run health insurance plan?
Note that 21 does not actually include an argument in favor of a public plan. It doesn't indicate that a public option could be better and cheaper than private insurance. It does not link a public plan to "the popular, patient-friendly Medicare system," as the Post's write-up implied. But 21a does offer an argument against the public plan -- that "many" private insurers might go out of business.
The Post's write-up suggests that the poll shows what the American people think when presented with an argument for the public plan and an argument against it. In fact, it merely shows what people think when they hear only an argument against it.