There are very few people who, paying even a smidgeon of attention to the news, could conscionably characterize the rollout of Obamacare as “fine.” The national Affordable Care Act website has been plagued with problems that even President Obama and Democratic leaders in both the House and the Senate have bemoaned.
Yet, somehow the recent Fox News poll (Oct. 20-22) was able to find about one third (31%) of registered voters who agreed that “how Obamacare is being carried out and implemented” is “going fine.”
On the other hand, the poll also found about twice that number (60%) who say the effort is “a joke.”
These results constitute a prime example of how pollsters can manufacture the semblance of public opinion. Many voters may have been less than thrilled with the rollout, but nevertheless didn’t think it was a “joke.”
But the poll provided only the two options. If you didn’t think the rollout was going well, and it would be hard to make the case for that position, you had only one other option to choose.
Had the question asked people to express in their own words how they felt about the rollout, no doubt only a small percentage would have actually volunteered they thought it was a “joke.” But by providing only that option opposite the option of “fine,” the pollster was able to make it appear as though a large majority of Americans feel the same way, apparently, as do the pundits on Fox.
So, this poll was less about measuring “public opinion” than about the poll sample mimicking “pundit opinion.”
Perhaps, the surprising figure was the 31% who said the rollout is doing fine. How could so many voters have that view, given the widespread news coverage of the problems with the exchanges?
My hypothesis is that many voters, who may have recognized the problems with the rollout, were nevertheless pushed to saying everything was “fine,” simply because they didn’t want to be manipulated into saying it was a “joke.”
Thus, the 31% probably overestimates the percentage of people who think the rollout is going well, even as the 60% greatly exaggerates the percentage who believe it is a joke.
A few days after the Fox poll, the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll (Oct. 25-28) asked about the same issue in a very different way:
“And, thinking some more about the problems people have reported experiencing with the new federal health care exchange website, which of the following statements comes closer to your point of view?
“These problems are short-term technical issues that happen in large projects like this and can be corrected. (37%)
“OR, These problems point to longer-term issues with the new health care law and its overall design that cannot be corrected. (31%)
“OR is it too soon to say one way or the other?” (30%)
The questions from the two media pollsters are not comparable in what they measure. The NBC/WSJ poll gives us an insight into how serious people might think the rollout problems are, while it’s difficult to interpret what the Fox poll tells us – other than a lot of people think the rollout of Obamacare is not going well.
But as I indicate above, the Fox poll was probably off in both of the percentages it reports, giving us little realistic insight into what the public was thinking. Ask garbage questions and get garbage results.