Yesterday afternoon, Quinnipiac released a new poll on the House GOP’s health-care-reform bill, the American Health Care Act (AHCA). The poll shows that 61 percent of respondents oppose cutting off federal funds to Planned Parenthood. After respondent were told that this funding “was being used only for non-abortion health issues such as breast cancer screening,” opposition to defunding Planned Parenthood increased to 80 percent. The poll has already received coverage from a number of media outlets including Politico, Fortune, Time and CNBC.com.
Unfortunately, both this Quinnipiac poll and a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released last week contain many of the same flaws. Neither poll mentions Planned Parenthood’s numerous legal and ethical troubles — specifically the group’s mishandling of Medicaid funds and its willingness to help minors circumvent parental-involvement laws. Neither poll mentions that money is fungible, meaning that the half a billion federal dollars flowing to Planned Parenthood each year still indirectly subsidize abortion. Finally, and most importantly, both polls misstate what the AHCA and other defunding bills would actually do. Proposed legislation would not merely defund Planned Parenthood; it would also reallocate that funding to over 10,000 federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), which offer comprehensive health services to over 24 million people a year, 14 million of whom are women. (This map illustrates how drastically community clinics outnumber Planned Parenthoods, by a ratio of 20 to one.)
Polls can be useful in describing the dimensions of public opinion to policymakers. When dealing with controversial issues, reputable polling firms will often release the results of multiple survey questions to show that responses are sensitive to question wording. However, when it comes to life issues, many polling firms often appear interested only in providing ammunition to abortion-rights groups and their allies in Congress. Gallup frequently asks the “pro-life” vs. “pro-choice” question, because up until recently, Americans were more likely to describe themselves as “pro-choice.” Questions about pro-life policies that enjoy broad support, such as parental-involvement laws, are asked much less often. This latest poll from Quinnipiac provides yet another unfortunate example of a polling firm advancing an ideological agenda instead of usefully contributing to an ongoing policy debate.