Thursday, September 26, 2013

Public Opinion is Meaningless, Exhibit #138640

XKCD gets it.
I was giving this Greg Sargent post a read just now in which he delves into the often incoherent polling responses that people have been giving about Obamacare. Specifically, he points out that in spite of the fact that polls show a majority disapprove of Obamacare, a majority of Americans oppose defunding it all the same. It's an excellent post and Sargent makes some great points, but there was one part in there that really stuck with me and I don't think that Greg really addressed the larger issue it brings up:
"The CNBC poll, by the way, has some fascinating other findings. For instance, while 46 percent say they view "Obamacare" negatively, that number drops to 37 percent when the law is described as the "Affordable Care Act."
 A 9 percent drop in disapproval percentages just because of a different name? That's well outside of the poll's margin of error, so there's something else afoot here, I think.

I would argue that this is another example of how, when it comes to complex policy issues, public opinion means almost nothing. Don't mistake what I'm trying to say here--I'm not saying that polling is always useless--just look at Nate Silver's work during the election. It most certainly is not useless. BUT--and this is a really important but--a complete overhaul of an already complicated health care delivery system is not something easily explained to non-wonks (in spite of my best efforts!). 

My ultimate point is this: your average, everyday person don't know that much about the ACA. Most people get their news from TV, and TV news is not a great place to learn about complicated topics--let alone a complicated law that's been wrapped in a swathe of misinformation before the ink could even dry. As such, most people don't know that much about the actual law, and when they're asked about it, they end up flailing and you get incoherent responses like the one above.

Just to further prove my point, when people were asked about the individual components of the law, well, see for yourself: 

Like I said, meaningless.