Medicare-for-All, one of the major policy proposals of the 2020 election, would provide all Americans with a publicly provided Medicare health insurance option in which all Americans would get insurance from a single public plan. Given the effect this policy would have on American patients, there have been numerous polls administered that examine this issue. One such poll was administered by McLaughlin & Associates. It is important to note that this poll was funded by the Coalition Against Socialized Medicine, which is a project of the American Conservative Union, because it does not support the implementation of Medicare-for-All. The poll found that 65% of New Hampshire voters disapproved of the policy. This number is in stark contrast to a national poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in late January of this year that found that 56% of Americans support the policy. Does the New Hampshire electorate have such a different view of healthcare than the nation as a whole?
As we discuss in our class, it best to focus more attention on polls done by reputable organizations that try to reduce bias in their work. When interpreting a poll, a good place to start is to see who is sponsoring or conducting it. If either the sponsor or the poll administrator has a stated position on the issue, it would not be surprising if the poll results support that position.
What can happen in these cases is that the bias of the sponsor or pollster can affect how the questions are asked, which then leads the respondent to certain answers. Looking at the McLaughlin poll in question, the pollster asked:
“Do you support or oppose eliminating the current Medicare program for seniors and all private healthcare plans, including plans from small businesses, large employers, and labor unions, and replacing it with a government-run, taxpayer-funded socialized healthcare system like Medicare for All?”
The question as phrased uses several phrases that may give respondents a negative reaction to the policy by using words such as “socialized” while also conditioning them to examine certain effects of the policy. The Kaiser Family Foundation poll phrased their question on Medicare-for-All as follows:
“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?”
This wording is more neutral and doesn’t condition the respondent to react to negative or positive effects in the question itself. The question asks directly if the respondent supports the policy.
One might have found an article that says that 65% of New Hampshire voters are against Medicare-for-All and have taken that number at face value. A closer examination of the sponsor behind the poll and the question posed to respondents shows that the design of the questions likely produced this result. A poll by a reputable pollster will not condition a respondent to view a policy in a certain way.
Introduction to Polling
A Guide to the 2020 Election Season—our introductory to polling course is designed to teach you a framework to use so that you can confidently follow the polls through this election season and beyond.View Course