A new survey of 1,200 respondents total “in ninety-one swing [congressional] districts (Blue Dog, Frontline, and Rural Caucus House districts),” taken from September 11-17, has now been released. The poll was sponsored by the organization Health Care for America Now (HCAN) and conducted by the firm of Anzalone-Liszt, which works for Democratic candidates (hat tip: Daily Kos). In general, the poll contains results that seem favorable toward President Obama’s and the Democrats’ health care reform proposals. Some details of the poll warrant particular scrutiny, however.
As a first step in analyzing a poll, one should know the larger population to whom the sample is meant to generalize. The term “Blue Dog” refers to relatively conservative Democrats, so I initially wondered if the sample consisted heavily of persons represented by Democrats in Congress. The term “Frontline,” as I just learned via some web searching, also applies exclusively to Democrats. However, the Rural Caucus appears to include both Democratic and Republican members of the House. Thus, it appears safe to say that the sample in the HCAN/Anzalone-Liszt survey consists substantially of individuals who vote Democratic, albeit in many cases for candidates in the party’s center-right ideological location.
Second, the poll appears to contain two types of items: ones that directly ask respondents if they approve or not of a given policy proposal, and others that preface the approval-disapproval question with a paragraph-length description of what’s covered under the policy. Responses to all types of survey items can be affected by question wording, but some critics seem to really have a problem with the preface/description type of item.
Some of the key results are described in the official poll summary, as follows:
Although initial support for Obama’s healthcare reform plan is under 50% (44% Support / 49% Oppose), voters express strong support for its individual components and a majority favors it after hearing a detailed description (53% Favor / 41% Oppose)…
To say that this poll’s overall support for the Democratic plan seems lukewarm, at best, may be missing the point, however. Some conservative Democrats have been threatening to vote against a reform bill that contains a public option. What the poll might convey to the Blue Dogs therefore is that, while bill is not necessarily wildly popular among their constituents, neither is it wildly unpopular.