Support for the Public Option

November 17th, 2009 by Lee Eldridge

A friend of mine wrote to me: “You can google Public Option Opinion Polls and find some that say up to 76% of Americans support the aforementioned Public Option.”

I have seen this same stat repeated on the news. So I googled it. If you google that exact phrase, the first result is titled “New Poll: 77 Percent Support “Choice” Of Public Option”. It links to a Huffington Post article from August. The survey was done by a company called SurveyUSA that I’m unfamiliar with. I didn’t see any newer polls with similar results. But they certainly might be out there.

Here’s what else I found.

According to Gallup on October 21, 50% think that a public option should be included in the reform bill, and 46% do not:

Gallup Poll with Public Option

And according to the Washington Post / ABC Poll from October 20, 57% support the public option:

Washington Post Public Option Poll

I’m always skeptical of polls. Take it from somebody with a background in marketing, they can be manipulated. The polls I mentioned a few days ago have tracked opinion over time. I tend to find these a bit more trustworthy since if there are any built-in biases in the poll, hopefully that bias is consistent over time.

And truthfully, I think this is irrelevant.

One, I don’t think some Americans completely understand what the “public option” means. According to pollster Frank Luntz, if you replace the phrase “public option” with “government option”, the numbers in support of the option drops. Notice that Nancy Pelosi recently rebranded it to the be the “consumer option”. Why? I’m sure there’s some poll out there that says that a “consumer option” is more favorable when compared to a “public option”. Which really just means that the person polled doesn’t understand the difference in the first place.

And two, if the public option is really just the path to a single payer, government run system as I believe, then support of the public option becomes irrelevant. (See my post here about the public option.) People are strongly opposed to government run health care. And they should be.

One last comment. What do we continue to hear from supporters of the public option? That it is necessary to create competition in order to drive down insurance premiums. However, these bills continue to prohibit insurance companies from competing across state lines. We allow insurance companies in other industries (auto, life, home) to compete across state lines. Why not health insurance?

The answer is easy. The endgame is not the public option. The endgame is government run health care. The public option is just the road that gets us there.

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