The Corner

Poll-Tested Fictions

In its continuing effort to advise Democrats on how to best deceive the public, the New York Times commissioned polls in three swing states — Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin — over the past week and tested a Medicare message for the president. They asked voters this question:

Which of these two descriptions comes closer to your view of what Medicare should look like for people who are now under 55 who would be eligible for Medicare coverage in about ten years? Medicare should continue as it is today, with the government providing seniors with health insurance, OR, Medicare should be changed to a system in which the government would provide seniors with a fixed amount of money toward purchasing private health insurance or Medicare insurance.

They found that about 60 percent of voters in each state wanted the first option, and about 30 percent wanted the second. Given this presentation of the options, it’s actually quite surprising that only 60 percent of voters chose the imaginary Democratic approach over the imaginary Republican one.


As any pollster worth his salt would tell you, the only words that matter in the question used by the Times are the first words of each description: “Medicare should continue as it is today” vs. “Medicare should be changed.” That is the essence of the poll’s deception, since obviously “Medicare should continue as it is today” is not an option, and is not what the Democrats are proposing. Republicans propose to have the program continue as it is for current seniors and near retirees, Democrats propose to have it continue as it is for no one, and both of them want to change it for future seniors. The question is how. And the answer is basically that the Democrats want to test the idea that yet more price controls and central planning will make the system more efficient while Republicans want to test the idea that intense competition for customers among providers will make the system more efficient. The Democrats’ idea has been tried for decades, it is the organizing principle of Medicare’s fiscal design, and it has gotten us to our current predicament. The Republican idea has been tried only in limited ways and in limited parts of the program and has shown some promise — as Medicare’s chief actuary, who works for President Obama, has said, there is evidence about premium support in Medicare of the sort Romney is proposing, and that evidence leads him to conclude that this approach “can get you to the lowest cost consistent with good quality of care.”


So I propose the following question for the next New York Times poll:

Which of these two descriptions comes closer to your view of what Medicare should look like? Medicare should be cut now to fund Obamacare and further cut in the future in accordance with the decisions of a board of 15 experts OR, Medicare should be left permanently unchanged for current seniors and changed for future seniors to a system that functions like today’s Part D drug benefit—providing comprehensive coverage and a choice of insurers competing for their business?

I suspect the Gray Lady would find the results of asking such a question unfit to print, and so will continue to pretend that Obamacare does not exist and to ignore the actual design of the Romney-Ryan plan.

Yuval Levin is the director of social, cultural, and constitutional studies at the American Enterprise Institute and the editor of National Affairs.


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