Should Health Law Be Repealed? Not A Simple Question

Would the public like to see the new health overhaul law repealed? A lot of pollsters have been asking that question lately. And they’ve been getting a lot of different answers.

In a poll conducted in September by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, 51 percent of respondents said they would find it “acceptable” if the “health care reform plan that was passed earlier this year is repealed,” while 39 percent found that an “unacceptable” outcome of the November elections.

But the September tracking poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found only 26 percent of respondents said the law should be repealed, with the most of the remainder of those who expressed disapproval of the measure saying the “law should be given a chance to work with Congress making necessary changes along the way.”

Meanwhile, the CBS News/New York Times poll, also in September, asked those who said they disapproved of the law if it should be repealed; 40 percent  said it should, while just seven percent said it should be allowed to stand.

So what explains the wide variation? The able pollsters at Kaiser thought they’d take a crack at that one in a short paper released today.

It turns out it’s not the timing of the various polls – the variations weren’t affected by the implementation of the new patient protections on September 23, the 6-month anniversary of the signing of the law. Nor was it the type of poll conducted. All the polls the Kaiser experts examined were phone surveys of all adults (rather than registered or likely voters) by live people.

As best the Kaiser folk can explain it, the most likely reason for the seeming divergence of opinion is the how the various questions were asked.

For example, by asking about repeal without first asking people if they support or oppose the law in general, the surveys “are to some extent picking up a generic opposition to the bill that doesn’t have another channel to flow through,” they wrote.

Then there are wording differences. “Clearly, when respondents are reminded that the newly passed law may need some time to work, or perhaps need to be modified, they are less interested in overturning it in the short term,” the Kaiser paper says.

Then there’s the lingering question of whether the public actually knows what’s even in the health law. As the Kaiser paper points out, the latest national survey by Bloomberg News finds 47 percent of respondents said they were in favor of “repealing” the law. But when they are subsequently asked if they want to keep or repeal eight specific elements of the measure, majorities are in favor of keeping – wait for it – six of them.

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