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A closer look at Fox News Obamacare poll

A new Fox News poll used curious word choices in measuring public approval of the Affordable Care Act.
A new Fox News poll used curious word choices in measuring public approval of the Affordable Care Act.
Screenshot by Ryan Witt

Over the last 48 hours two separate polls have been released on the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. One of those polls, from Rasmussen Reports, showed a public fairly evenly divided on the law with 45 percent in favor and 51 percent opposed for a -6 approval rating. Another poll, from Fox News, shows 39 percent in favor of the law and 56 percent opposed for a -17 approval rating. The difference in the results for these two polls may come down to question wording.

The Rasmussen poll asks respondents the following question when measuring public approval of the Affordable Care Act:

Do you have a very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable or favorable impression of the new health care law?"

By asking about the “new health care law” Rasmussen’s survey removes any bias which may be associated with the word “Obamacare” or against Obama himself.

Rasmussen also allows room for respondents to take more of middle ground by saying they view the law “somewhat” favorably or unfavorably.

Compare that with the wording of the Fox News poll below:

Do you favor or oppose the new national health care law that was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama in 2010?”

There are a number of key words which may lead to more negative responses in the Fox News poll. Rather than references the “health care law” Fox News refers to a “new national health care law” that was “passed by Congress” and “signed into law by President Obama.”

According to the Real Clear Politics average Congress currently has a 13.9 percent approval rating with a 78.5 percent disapproval rating. This is a very strong negative sentiment, and yet for some reason Fox News decided to associate the health care law with Congress as a whole. President Obama has a 44.1 percent approval rating and 50.9 percent disapproval rating according to the RCP average. Once again, associating the Affordable Care Act with the President may lead to a number of automatic negative responses, regardless of how people feel about the law itself.

Of course the Affordable Care Act was passed by Congress, though not this Congress, and it the law was signed by President Obama. It is also true that hot dogs are made of leftover pig parts. If you asked the public if they like hot dogs you would get a much more favorable response than if you asked the public if they like leftover pig parts. Question wording matters, and it matters greatly.

What could explain the different wording of the two polls?

Rasmussen Reports previously had a reputation for producing polls which were bias against Democrats and President Obama. However, after missing badly with many of their polls in the 2012 Presidential Election, where President Obama won by a large Electoral College margin, Scott Rasmussen left his position as president of the company and since then Rasmussen Reports have been more favorable toward Obama and the Democrats. Who knows whether the question wording could be attributed to Rasmussen’s apparent change of direction after the departure of Scott Rasmussen.

Fox News consistently been accused of skewing their coverage in anti-Obama direction. Ahead of the midterm elections many Fox News analysts are claiming that “Obamacare” will doom Democrats. Is the Fox News narrative influencing the way they poll the health care law? The organization has certainly been accused of worst.

So which poll is right?

It is really impossible to tell because the Rasmussen poll is somewhat vague in itself by referring to the “new health care law.” The best measurement of the Affordable Care Act may be those polls which asks about the individual provisions of the law. By asking the public whether they approve of the individual mandate or the provision which bans insurance companies from discriminating on pre-existing conditions we are likely to get a much more accurate picture of public viewpoints then by asking about a general health care law, or “Obamacare,” or “a health care law passed by Congress and signed by President Obama.”

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