FOLLOW-UP: Health Reform and Public Opinion

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It isn’t often that you get to give a Harvard professor a homework assignment, but that’s what Swampland commenters did yesterday. This came after I posted this Kaiser Health News column by Robert Blendon, the Harvard School of Public Health professor who is one of the leading experts on the intersection of health policy and politics.

Commenters immediately wanted to know where he was getting this stuff. A sampling:

Trifecta55: Where is his poll data coming from KT? Genuinely curious.

Deconstructiva: Agreed! Which polls? Whom got polled, how, etc.? e.g., Rasmussen is known to have a conservative slant; others vary.

Stuartzechman: We really need to know what data Robert Blendon is reading, because this seems silly:

Many of those who will be most influential will not be political figures working in Washington.
Polls suggest they may be leaders of physicians’ and nurses’ groups, seniors’ groups, and organizations advocating for patients with serious illnesses.

What polls is he talking about, KT?

These seemed like reasonable questions to me, so I put them to Blendon, and this morning he emailed back an answer:


Most of the polls mentioned in the Kaiser Health News piece can be found in our recent NEJM article and the Polling Report (links below). There is a “table” near the end of the NEJM article listing the polls we used. For the 2009 polls, if you click on the date of a poll, you’ll be linked to the complete results of that poll.

NEJM article

The Polling Report:

Here is the 1965 Medicare question that was cited:

Harris Survey [February, 1965]

Do you favor or oppose President (Lyndon) Johnson’s program of medical care for the aged under Social Security?

62% Favor
38 Oppose
Methodology: Conducted by Louis Harris & Associates during February, 1965 and based on personal interviews with a national adult sample of 1,250. Sample size is approximate. As reported in The Washington Post.[USHARRIS.030865.R1]

Data provided by The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, University of Connecticut.

Robert Blendon

Much appreciated, Professor Blendon.

UPDATE:’s Mark Blumenthal also talked to Blendon, and reports:

He points to the Gallup result showing 26% of adults who say the health care bill will “make your own health care situation better,” 36% who say it will make it worse and 31% who think it will not make much difference. “In the absence of not having a fixed view of what this [reform bill] is and how it will work out for me,” he said, Americans are “more susceptible to advertising.”

In the same context, Americans are also watching the news coverage focused on the legislative process and “getting more scared.” He said he watched the cable news coverage following passage of the bill on Saturday night and saw “not a word telling you why you should care if the thing passes.”

Blendon still believes, as he and Benson argue in NEJM, that “public opinion is still fluid on the key question about the impact of the legislation.” Again, the percentage that say they will be worse off still falls far below a majority, and Gallup has tracked in increase in the initial “not sure” response (from 22% to 33%) over the last month. Proponents of health care, Blendon argues, must invest time telling seniors and others who stand to benefit “how they will be better off…that’s the thing they have to do to turn this around.”