Thursday, May 19, 2011

PolitiFact's push poll

Crossposted from Sublime Bloviations.

Push polls are not really polls at all; their object is not to measure public opinion, but to manipulate it by providing as many “respondents” as possible with hypothetical, sometimes blatantly false information, about candidates, political parties or initiatives.
Election Law Journal
The third-rate fact checkers at PolitiFact published a push poll yesterday.

Are they trying to make it easy for me to prove they're biased?  I'm literally astounded by some of the things they do.  I couldn't have been more surprised if a magical plesiosaur pointed out the way to Candy Mountain.

Okay, so it was set up as a quiz rather than a poll, but other than that the structure was the same.  Writer Angie Drobnic Holan (who ought to know better) reviewed for readers a couple of (skewed) PolitiFact ratings noting the similarities between RomneyCare and PPACA, the latter also known as ObamaCare.  No mention is made of differences between the two through that point unless we count the different names.

Drobnic continues from there:
Both leave in place the major insurance systems: employer-provided insurance, Medicare for seniors and Medicaid for the poor. They seek to reduce the number of uninsured by expanding Medicaid and by offering tax breaks to help moderate income people buy insurance. People are required to buy insurance or pay a penalty, a mechanism called the "individual mandate." And companies that don't offer insurance have to pay fines, with exceptions for small business and a few other cases.
She moved on from talking about the similarities to talking more about the similarities.  Apparently RomneyCare and ObamaCare are so similar that there's not much point in mentioning differences, if any.

After having the similarities impressed on us, we're supposed to take a quiz to see if we can even tell the difference between the two.  We get ten descriptions which apply either to RomneyCare or ObamaCare.  One is a poll result rather than a feature of the bill, leaving us with nine relevant points of comparison.

The first concerns the individual mandate, an obvious and well-known similarity between the two plans.  The second concerns employer penalties for failing to carry insurance--another fairly well-known feature the two plans have in common.  The third mentions tax credits for those who have trouble paying for health insurance.

Notice a trend?  We're a third through the nine relevant points and the focus is strongly on the similarities.

The fourth and fifth touch on two different ways the plans expand Medicaid coverage.  The first mention of a difference of any significance comes in terms of a similarity (expanded Medicaid coverage).

The sixth mentioned a poll showing people split on favoring one of the health care plans.  The plan was ObamaCare, as it turned out, and Drobnic helpfully achieved an even 41 percent in favor with 41 percent against without mentioning the substantially higher percentage within the latter figure who "strongly oppose" ObamaCare.  The later explanation does make clear that RomneyCare is relatively popular in Massachusetts, but the overall message remains one of equivalency.  Massachusetts is, after all, a predominantly liberal state.

The seventh was a tax credit for small businesses designed to provide an incentive for the purchase of employee health plans.  This represents the second difference of some significance, as apparently no such provision exists in RomneyCare.

The eighth was a gimme.  It talked of "experience" showing that the plan would not lower the cost of insurance premiums.  Those who do not realize that ObamaCare has no real track record yet might consider the statement to apply to either plan.  And it's a pretty good prediction for ObamaCare, but PolitiFact insists that it applies to RomneyCare alone.  Perhaps that's based simply on the past experience angle.

The ninth referred to the establishment of an outcomes research board featured in ObamaCare.  This is the first major difference between the two, though it is described in entirely innocuous terms throughout the story despite the fact that it was roundly criticized from the right for its similarity to Great Britain's NICE.  And even NICE sounds pretty nice until you hear about some of the ways they meddle in patient care.  Conservatives think the outcomes research feature in ObamaCare is intended as a rudimentary NICE, poised to blossom into the real thing as the federal health care bureaucracy burgeons.  PolitiFact makes it sound nice, but not NICE at all.

The tenth touches the tip of the iceberg for the most significant differences between ObamaCare and RomneyCare:  the taxes.  The PolitiPush poll mentions an increase in the Medicare payroll tax applied to families with earnings over $200,000 and for individuals earning over $250,000.  The increase from 1.45 percent to 2.35 percent applies only after the aforementioned income thresholds, which isn't how PolitiFact described it.  PolitiPush also mentions a 3.8 percent hike on investment income.  Find the balance of the iceberg here.  PolitiFact couldn't mention them all because there simply wasn't room in a quiz of this kind.

The ordering of the quiz questions seems designed to establish the impression of strong similarity.  The differences may have been chosen with an eye toward public acceptance, though to be fair the taxes mentioned were among those expected to generate the greatest revenue.  The fees imposed on insurance companies warranted no mention in the PolitiPush poll.

Did we miss anything?  Well, yeah.  There's the IPAB, the continued federal government crush of unfunded mandates on the states and a set of regulations that may end up putting private insurance companies out of business in the United States.

Push polls like PolitiFact's suppress certain information on the publisher's behalf while leading the person answering the questions toward a set of desired beliefs.

What possessed PolitiFact to publish something like this?  Disgusting.

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