nos-trum. pronunciation: \nos'-trum\. noun. Etymology: Latin, neuter of noster our, ours.
1. a medicine of secret composition recommended by its preparer but usually without scientific proof of its effectiveness.
2. a usually questionable remedy or scheme.
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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Health Care Reform: Do We Hate It Or Love It?...uh...Yes.

Take a look at these separate poll data.  They seem inconsistent, but there's an explanation.

From Datawatch, Kaiser Family Foundation  (Sep 29:

(This graph is getting a lot of press from the MSNBC, Salon, NYT, WaPo crowd)

Then from Rasmussen Reports (Sep 20):
Sixty-one percent (61%) of Likely U.S. Voters now at least somewhat favor repeal of the new national health care law, including 50% who Strongly Favor it. That’s up eight points from a week ago and the highest level of opposition measured since late May.
A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 33% of Likely Voters oppose repeal. Since the passage of the bill in late March, a majority of voters have consistently favored repeal of the new law, with support ranging from a low of 53% to a high of 63%.

Doesn't seem to match up does it?  If you watch MSNBC then you probably hear the first story.  If you watch FoxNews you hear the second.

While both sets of data seem to be talking about the same subject, Health Care Reform-and specifically the new law--they aren't asking people the same thing about it.

The first asks about "favorability" and the second is asking about "repeal."

Why should that make a difference?  The first is a "thumbs up" and the second is a "thumbs down" on the new law, right?

The explanation lies in which words you use, and how you phrase the question.  When you ask about health care reform favorability, most Americans are for it.  When you ask specifically about doing away with the current version of reform, they are for that, too.

It's not that the people are inconsistent.  It's that the pollsters design their questions to get the answer they're looking for (cynically speaking) or they phrase the question in a way that their customers or audience would like to hear an answer (diplomatically speaking).

As reform unfolds, and particularly as we approach the mid-term elections, expect to see a lot of spinning of poll data to show one side or the other has the advantage.  As an intelligent reader, though, you can get behind the data, see how they structured the question, how they set the stage for the types of answers they are seeking, and what population they ask the question of (note that the negative poll is "Likely voters."  The positive poll is "Adults.")

Nostrums readers know how to fact-check the data for selection bias and inadequate statistical power.

Doc D

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