Thursday, April 28, 2011

Medicare Polling

Kaiser Family Foundation has a new poll out on Ryan's Folly. Initial top-line numbers for Democrats suggest that the country is evenly divided between maintaining the current Medicare program or creating a voucher program that shifts decisions and costs onto Seniors. However, these top-line numbers are not particularly informative. Ryan's Folly will be the center of the 2012 campaign as Americans compare the two parties' visions of America. And they will vote after being exposed to the core arguments that both sides will make about Medicare.

Kaiser polls this scenario, taking each side, and exposing them to the opposing side's arguments. In a traditional fairness-rule media environment, you would expect both parties to be able to provide their argument the average voter about the same amount, so the exercise of exposing the "Voucherize-and-destroy" initial responders with the Democratic argument and the "Preserve-as-is" group with the Republican argument seems like a decent test of where the nation will come out on the Medicare issue after the arguments have been made.

As you can kind of make out, 50% of Americans initially respond "Keep Medicare" as Government provided health care while 46% begin with the "Change Medicare" to a government-subsidized insurance scheme. Of the "Keep Medicare" group who hear the Republican argument, 54% change their minds. On the other side, the Democratic argument persuades 68% to change their opinion of what is to be done. Back of the envelope math pegs the outcome of this two step process at 51% support for the "Keep Medicare" position, while the group that now believes we should "Change Medicare" to 38% of the sample.

Not a perfect exercise, especially because we would assume that if people hear both arguments more or less simultaneously, they'll have to pick which one to believe. But the more the national conversation focuses on Ryan's Folly, the more clearer it will become that the Republican talking point included in this sample (which includes a bald-faced lie that ending Medicare would "save Medicare") doesn't reflect the actual Republican plan.

If, however, we ignore the complexities of social, political, and individual decision making, and view the discursive process as a function of the numbers reported in this poll, public opinion would eventually reach an equilibrium of about 53% in support of keeping Medicare as government-run health care, 43% in support of Ryan's Folly, and 4% undecided.

Technical note: I arbitrarily set the number of 'undecideds' at 4% and held it constant through all iterations of the two-step model, simply dividing the 'undecideds' and adding them in to both sides evenly at each iteration. The actual poll suggests that after the arguments are presented, 12% of the respondents were undecided. You could do more sophisticated modeling of the argument by randomizing the proportion of the undecideds that swing either way with each iteration, but- well, the entire equilibrium exercise is probably pointless anyway.

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