A Public Plan: It Depends On How You Ask the Question

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As we have noted here before, two recent polls have shown three-quarters of the public support the idea of giving people the choice of a government-run health care plan similar to Medicare. But a new Washington Post survey throws some caveats on that proposition, and gets a very different result:

Survey questions that equate the public option approach with the popular, patient-friendly Medicare system tend to get high approval, as do ones that emphasize the prospect of more choices. But when framed with an explicit counterargument, the idea receives a more tepid response. In the new Post-ABC poll, 62 percent support the general concept, but when respondents were told that meant some insurers would go out of business, support dropped sharply, to 37 percent.

Here’s that data (and you can read the entire poll here):

public plan question

This is important, because it tells us how the two sides are going to frame the debate going forward. Supporters of a public plan will emphasize choice and remind people how popular and successful Medicare has been. Opponents will raise the prospect of losing what you have. (And depending on how that public plan is designed, both arguments could be true.) Which meme takes root will very likely determine the outcome.