Health care polls leave pols dizzy - Andie Coller -

Remember this the next time you point out that poll showing that 65% of people want a public option or that 65% of people are opposed to Obama's health care proposals.

You could forgive a typical poll-driven pol for being driven around the bend by health reform.

Legislators hoping to learn what their constituents think about the issue — and how to vote to keep them happy — face a dizzying deluge of hard-to-reconcile data, some of which suggests that voters are more than a little confused, as well.

What to make of it, for example, when one poll finds that 63 percent think “death panels” are a “distortion” or “scare tactic,” and only 30 percent think the issue is “legitimate,” while another finds that 41 percent believe that people would die because “government panels” would prevent them from getting the treatment they needed?

Or when one survey finds that 55 percent of Americans support the public option, while another says 79 percent favor one — but also notes that only 37 percent people surveyed actually knew what “public option” meant?
The surveys are seemingly so sensitive that sometimes one word can spark charges of bias.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office recently griped about an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that asked whether Americans favor a public option that would compete with private insurance companies, rather than asking how important they felt it was to have the “choice” between a public option and private insurance, as they had before.

The wording tweak left the impression that support for the public option had dropped from 76 percent to 43 percent since June, critics argued.

Others have complained about a New York Times/CBS News poll that used a word with positive associations — “Medicare” — to describe the public option.

And an ABC News summary of the results of eight polls from late July through mid-August on “the public option” found that support for a public option ranged from 43 percent to 66 percent.
When incredibly minor changes such as these can cause such drastic swings in how people respond to polls on this issue, it's absolutely worthless to try to rely on any one of them as authoritative.