The supporters of a government-run “public option” are touting a CBS/NY Times poll which purportedly shows that 65% of people support a public option. But examine how the question is framed, and it is clear that the question is intended to elicit a favorable response:

“Would you favor or oppose the government offering everyone a government administered health insurance plan — something like the Medicare coverage that people 65 and older get — that would compete with private insurance plans?”

What if the question were worded differently, such as:

  • “President Obama has said that the current Medicare cost structure is unsustainable. Would you favor or oppose the government offering a similar plan to everyone?”
  • “Would you be in favor of the government offering everyone a government administered health insurance plan — something like the Medicare coverage that people 65 and older get — even if it meant that private insurers could not compete with the government?”
  • “Would you be in favor of the government offering everyone a government administered health insurance plan — something like the Medicare coverage that people 65 and older get — even if it meant that some employers would drop their private coverage for employees?”

I doubt that questions which included the negative aspects of a public option would result in such positive responses. The question is framed to elicit a misleading answer which then can be used by supporters of the public option to overstate public support.

Indeed, Mark Kleiman was surprised to see CBS/NY Times polling such a formatted question. Kleiman argues that supporters of the public option should try tying the “public option” to the popular Medicare program to gain more support. This pro-public option strategy is exactly how the CBS/NY Times pollsters framed the question, i.e., in the most favorable light for the public option without any hint of the problems facing Medicare or the negative fallout from a public option.

Here’s a question I bet would elicit an even more positive response: “Would you be in favor of a free lunch?”

Yes, indeed, the poll results will show that people overwhelmingly support a free lunch, so there must be such a thing as a free lunch. Let’s restructure our government and economy around providing free lunches to everyone! The polls says it has support, so it must be good.

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