Critical Condition

NRO’s health-care blog.

AP Misrepresents Americans’ True Attitudes Toward Repeal


A widely reprinted Associated Press story asserts that Americans “aren’t clamoring for [Obamacare’s] repeal” and want to “give the overhaul a chance.” The story cites as its sources for this fanciful contention “some surveys,” “a congressional race in a bellwether Pennsylvania district,” and a comment from a Harvard professor, Robert Blendon, who asserts, “Though most Americans still do not favor the law, they tend to be leaning toward candidates who would give it a chance and make some changes, rather than those who would repeal it and start over again.”

“Some surveys” turns out to be just one survey, the “bellwether” race wasn’t a bellwether race at all, and Blendon’s assertion isn’t supported by any further evidence in the AP piece or anywhere else — aside from in the one survey on which the entire AP piece (and apparently Blendon’s comment) relies.

Since the start of May, according to, five different polls have asked whether people support or oppose Obamacare, and all five have shown Americans opposing it. Only one of those five, the NBC/WSJ poll, has asked about repeal, and this is the poll on which the AP story relies. One other poll, Rasmussen, which hasn’t directly asked whether Americans support or oppose Obamacare (and hence isn’t included in the pollster tally) has also asked about repeal. So, what questions have the two polls that have dealt directly with repeal asked, and what have they found?

The NBC/WSJ poll, now more than three weeks old, asked the following question: “[W]ould you be more likely to vote for a candidate for Congress who says we should repeal the new health care law entirely and then start over, or a candidate for Congress who says we should give the new health care law a chance to work and then make changes to it as needed?” In asking the question to various people, they alternated the order of the last two clauses.

The question is phrased as a choice between a candidate who wants to repeal the law “entirely” (the right strategy, but not the rhetorical emphasis that those who favor this strategy would likely choose) and one who just wants to “give [it] a chance to work” — between one who wants us to “start over,” apparently from scratch, and one who instead wants to “make changes,” a good thing in itself, perhaps, made still more attractive by the qualifier “as needed.”

No mention is made of replacing the overhaul with real reform, which is how GOP candidates would put it. Instead, the question reads like a Democrat’s rhetorical formulation on the stump: “I too share your concerns about the legislation, and I know it’s not perfect. But would you rather have someone who will at least give it a chance to work and then push to make changes as needed? Or would you rather have someone who would repeal it entirely and start over from scratch?”

Imagine if the question had instead been, “Would you be more likely to vote for a candidate for Congress who wants to repeal the overhaul and then replace it with real reform, or a candidate for Congress who says we should keep the overhaul in place?” I doubt the answers would have been the same, and I don’t think this question is any more biased than the NBC/WSJ one.

In any event, Americans replied by a margin of 55 to 42 percent, with a margin of 57 to 40 among independents, that they would support the moderate-sounding fellow over the somewhat rash-sounding candidate who wants to repeal the law entirely and leave us back at square-one.

Also keep in mind that this poll was of a random sampling of Americans, not of likely voters or even registered voters: Obamacare has consistently polled better among all voters than among likely voters, and among people who don’t feel strongly than among those who do. Furthermore, in the more than three weeks since this poll was taken, Obamacare has been polling even worse than it had been previously.

Meanwhile, Rasmussen has been asking a much more straightforward question every week, and has been asking it only to likely voters: “A proposal has been made to repeal the health care bill and stop it from going into effect. Do you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose a proposal to repeal the health care bill?” Over the past three weeks, the combined result among 3,000 likely voters (as opposed to 1,000 people in the NBC/WSJ poll) has been that they favor repeal 60–36; that 45 percent “strongly” favor repeal, compared to only 28 percent “strongly” opposed; and that independents favor repeal by more than two-to-one.

Even if you were to assume that all polls are created equal and combine the results of these two polls — ignoring the former’s datedness, its failure to target likely voters, and the leading nature of its question — the tallies would be as follows: Americans favor repeal — or the repeal candidate — by a margin of 6 points (51 to 45 percent), and independents favor repeal by double-digits (53 to 43), significantly more than the seven-point margin by which Barack Obama won the presidency.

And if Republicans need any more reassurance that independents are on their side, the three other polls taken in the last month that have broken out independents’ support of Obamacare (CBS, Quinnipiac, and PPP) have shown independents opposing Obamacare by an average margin of 13 points (51 to 38 percent). CBS also asked independents whether the overhaul would help or hurt them personally, and they replied that it would hurt them, by a margin of 22 points (35 to 13 percent).

Why would AP run a story suggesting the complete opposite of the preponderance of evidence from the polls? Perhaps the answer lies in Rasmussen’s tallies of Obamacare’s support among various groups of voters, which show repeal being favored by 75 percent of “mainstream” Americans but only 15 percent of the “political class.”

So fight on with confidence, GOP! The American people want Obamacare to be repealed, and they will reward the party that champions that cause.


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