Survey: many more Republicans, plus a few more other Americans are opposed to government-run health care

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Here's a link to a poll that teaches us a bit about how to read poll numbers. It's a yearly poll done by Gallup that shows that the percentage of Americans that see health care as a government responsibility has dropped this year, following another drop last year at the same time. The graph at the top looks pretty dramatic.

Wow, where did the drop come from? Have Americans suddenly changed their mind on government policy? The answer is no. Here's how the numbers are explained.

First of all, note the Democratic and Republican numbers on the far left. Those are also fairly low for Dems and high for Repubs, and as soon as that year ended the numbers suddenly switched into a new norm. This was the beginning of the George W. Bush presidency.

The reason for this is simple: members of a party maintain a high support for issues their party is based upon (health care for Democrats, low taxes for Republicans), and this support remains high when the other party is in power. Once one's own party comes into power, however, all of a sudden it's possible to begin enacting these policies (health care, tax cuts, you name it) and then support usually becomes support of a current bill or proposal rather than just a general support for an idea. It's the difference between looking at a house being sold for a pretty good price and thinking "yeah, I'd love to live there" and actually going on the market for one. All of a sudden you begin to think about whether the house really is a such a good deal, how long it's going to take to pay off the loan, whether it would be a good idea to look at a few other houses instead, and now one's original ephemeral support for the first house has dropped, even though the idea of getting a house is still a pretty good one.

You can see this at work in the image here comparing support by party. When they were in power the Republicans maintained a steady 40% of those that thought the government had a responsibility to provide people with health care coverage, but when 2008 and 2009 came around this dropped to 29% and then 21%. Now that it's the other party in charge of enacting health care reform the idea doesn't look so good anymore. At the same time Democratic support has dropped a tad but remains high at 74%. The reason for the drop is probably a combination of the explanation given above, as well as the current financial situation.

In the same way one might expect Democrats to have a fairly high support for the idea of tax cuts during a democratic administration (not now of course, because the budget is too tight, but during the 1990s) but as soon as it's George Bush doing the tax cuts that support is likely to drop.

This overall average drop in support but actually mostly driven by a drop of support on one side only can be seen in President Obama's overall support as well. Take a look at these charts from here:

Hm, here Obama started out fairly high (just below 70% favorable), went way up at inauguration, and has been in the mid-50s for quite some time now. What's driving this? The majority of it comes from a huge loss in Republican support, and a smaller drop among independents, as can be seen here:

Democratic support hasn't changed a bit since Obama's election and inauguration. Independent support has dropped by 20 points, which is normal - the honeymoon period is over, jobs are still being lost, health care remains unsolved, many things to worry about. But the Republican drop in support is just phenomenal, from -40 to nearly 0 at the inauguration, and now below -80.

Why is this important? Because without looking at the party breakdown and accounting for which party is in power it becomes too easy to see this as an overall trend as this site has done. It's no more an overall trend than a drop in support for tax cuts during the George W. Bush administration due to a drop in Democratic support pulling down the overall numbers.


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