Frederick Van Bennekom, a FutureOfCapitalism community member who is a professional survey design expert at Great Brook, sends some thoughts on the latest Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News poll:
The Key finding of the NY Times, CBS News and Quinnipiac University poll of swing states (FL, OH, WI) was summarized as:
Roughly 6 in 10 likely voters in each state want Medicare to continue providing health insurance to older Americans the way it does today; fewer than a third of those polled said Medicare should be changed in the future to a system in which the government gives the elderly fixed amounts of money to buy health insurance or Medicare insurance, as Mr. Romney has proposed. And Medicare is widely seen as a good value: about three-quarters of the likely voters in each state said the benefits of Medicare are worth the cost to taxpayers.
But here's the question posed:
35. Which of these two descriptions comes closer to your view of what Medicare should look like for people who are now under 55 who would be eligible for Medicare coverage in about ten years? Medicare should continue as it is today, with the government providing seniors with health insurance, OR, Medicare should be changed to a system in which the government would provide seniors with a fixed amount of money toward purchasing private health insurance or Medicare insurance. (Answer choices rotated)
Just over 60% wanted to continue Medicare as is, and about 30% said they supported changing the system. However, the 2012 Ryan plan offers the choice of premium support or staying in traditional Medicare. In other words, the poll did not test the actual choice offered between the two campaigns even though that is how the Times has pitched the results of the poll.
Also, the immediate preceding question was:
34. Overall, do you think the benefits from Medicare are worth the cost of the program for taxpayers, or are they not worth the cost?
The poll found roughly consistent results for the three states with 75%-16% feeling that Medicare is worth the cost. That question helps set the mental state of the respondent that Medicare as we know it is a good thing going into the next question about making changes to the program. Even with this slant, look at the results for the next question:
36. To reduce the federal budget deficit, would you support major reductions, minor reductions, or no reductions to spending on Medicare?
Almost 60% of respondents supported major or minor reductions in Medicare (11% Major, 48% Minor). How can 60% support keeping Medicare as is yet the same percentage support spending reductions? The survey design did not force respondents to make trade-offs among competing alternatives, and these conflicting results show why forcing respondents to make trade-offs is so important. Forced trade-offs eliminate the money-grows-on-trees responses we see here. The Times inexplicably doesn't report this finding from their survey.
Further, while the headline is that "Obama Is Given Trust Over Medicare," the poll has mixed results. While by a 51%-42% margin Obama is trusted more to handle Medicare, more people strongly disapprove of ObamaCare than strongly approve.
Perhaps the most startling result in the poll -- and not reported by the Times -- was the seismic shift in the Florida senatorial race. In the Time's late July poll, Democrat Bill Nelson led Republican Connie Mack 47%-40% while in this poll, Mack led 50%-41%.