47 percent support/32 percent oppose, according to a Sept. 15 poll by The Economist/YouGov,
which asked a more stripped down question: "Do you favor or
oppose...having a 'public option' which would allow individuals to
purchase health care insurance coverage from the government?"
Aside from the miasma of partisan-sponsored surveys, data on the public
option from major polling and news entities has been scarce in
the last month, and these three polls represent the latest and best
findings we have. And they paint a somewhat inconsistent picture.
So why the divergence? I'm guessing the NY Times/CBS poll gives the
public option a more favorable shake because it likens the public option to
Medicare...and it's an established fact that even protesters of the
public option like Medicare. "No Socialized Medicine...Get Your Hands
Off Medicare!" say the signs.
In covering his paper's own poll, David Herszenhorn notes that the description doesn't exactly match up with what's on the table in Congress:
But in Congress, none of the legislative proposals that include the public option would make it available to everyone. In fact, the public option, at least at the outset, would not be an option for most Americans, particularly those who already have health insurance.
"[O]ffering" the plan to "everyone" is a pretty friendly phrase.
The Economist/YouGov, meanwhile, uses "allow...to purchase" as the
There's also rampant public confusion about what's meant by "public option," Nate Silver noted
in August. A Penn, Schoen and Berland online poll (less reliable than
phone surveys) showed that only 37 percent of the public knew that a
"public option" is a government-administered insurance plan...26
percent, meanwhile, thought it meant creating a national health care
system like what they have in Great Britain. Consequently, it matters a
lot how pollsters word their descriptions.
The three polls listed above steer clear of partisan insinuation, but
public misapprehensions should account for some general loose wiring in
poll responses. If only a third of the country knows what you're
talking about--or if 2/3 are shocked, confused, and mistrustful when
pollsters start asking them about government-administered health
insurance plans--random samples become less reliable. (That's not to
say Penn, Schoen and Berland's data on "public plan" comprehension is
itself totally accurate.)
So the UFO/public option comparison may or may not be completely
accurate. If you believe The Economist/YouGov, it's still more or less
But comparing public policy opinion to the deep, Jungian jungle of
human belief is dangerous business. After all, the same AP survey found
that 48 percent--a shade better than the public option fared in The
Economist's poll--believe in ESP. In 1997, 80 percent of Americans
thought the government was hiding knowledge of the existence of
extraterrestrial life forms according to CNN.