–Headline of a Jonathan Cohn article in The New Republic, Sept. 15, 2014
The survey doesn’t say what Jonathan Cohn and The New Republic say it does.
On Sept. 15, 2014 the left-leaning magazine The New Republic published a story by Jonathan Cohn about some survey results related to the popularity of the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare
Obamacare isn’t very popular. People don’t like it, even if they don’t support repeal. But what about the law do people find so objectionable? Are they reacting to what the law actually does, or to the law’s name? A new poll from Morning Consult sheds some light on that question.
The relevant part of the study focused on the answers Republicans gave to two questions.
The first was “Do you think all states should expand Medicaid as encouraged under the Affordable Care Act?” Republicans answered “yes” at a 36 percent rate while 49 percent said no.
The second was “Do you think all states should offer Medicaid to low income adults who make below the federal poverty line?” Republicans answered “yes” to this question at a 51 percent rate while 35 percent said no.
Cohn concluded that dropping the term “Affordable Care Act” increased support for “the Medicaid expansion.”
Analyzing the Rhetoric
Those familiar with the details of the ACA’s proposed Medicaid expansion likely spotted the problem with this survey. The ACA expands Medicaid eligibility to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Thus, when the second question asks whether states should offer Medicaid to adults below the federal poverty line it isn’t asking if respondents favor expanding Medicaid as encouraged under the Affordable Care Act.
The Affordable Care Act expands coverage for the poorest Americans by creating an opportunity for states to provide Medicaid eligibility, effective January 1, 2014, for individuals under 65 years of age with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL).
Kaiser Family Foundation:
The ACA aimed to fill in gaps in coverage by extending Medicaid to nearly all nonelderly adults with incomes at or below 138% of poverty (about $32,900 for a family of four in 2014).
Advisory.com explains the discrepancy between the Medicaid.gov description and the one from Kaiser Family Foundation:
(P)articipating states must cover all residents ages 19 to 65 who have a household income below 133% of the federal poverty level (FPL), with a 5% income disregard. Effectively, this means that adult residents with a household income below 138% of the FPL would be eligible for Medicaid under the expansion.
The survey, then, provides an inaccurate description of the ACA with its second question. This error invalidates the assertion contained in the title of Cohn’s article, as well as Cohn’s assertion that the survey sheds light on whether people dislike the law’s features or its name.
Cohn has an excuse available. Morning Consult, the organization that produced the survey, suggested exactly the conclusion The New Republic published:
The politics of Obamacare have shifted as millions of people got access to subsidized health insurance coverage over the past year. But as this polling shows, those three words — Affordable Care Act — are still potent enough to provoke a significant partisan split.
The survey question failed to clearly ask respondents whether they favored the ACA’s Medicaid expansion while omitting mention of the “Affordable Care Act.” The survey offers no valid support for the claimed conclusion.
“Survey: Republicans Like Obamacare a Lot More if You Call It by a Different Name”
It’s true the account of the survey from Morning Consult claimed Republicans like Obamacare more absent a certain label, actually the “Affordable Care Act,” but the staff at The New Republic should have spotted the problems with the claim. The article effectively endorses a claim the survey fails to support.
“Are they reacting to what the law actually does, or to the law’s name? A new poll from Morning Consult sheds some light on that question.”
The poorly phrased question Morning Consult used to reach its conclusion cannot support Cohn’s claim about the value of the survey.
After leaving commentary at The New Republic explaining the problem with the survey’s conclusion, we expected Cohn and The New Republic to correct or retract the article. To date, that has not happened.
We tried submitting a comment in response to Morning Consult but see no evidence it was read or published.
Cohn, Jonathan. “Survey: Republicans Like Obamacare a Lot More If You Call It by a Different Name.” The New Republic. The New Republic, 15 Sept. 2014. Web. 21 Sept. 2014.
“Eligibility.” Medicaid.gov. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, n.d. Web. 21 Sept. 2014.
“How Will the Uninsured Fare Under the Affordable Care Act?” KFF.org. Kaiser Family Foundation, 07 Apr. 2014. Web. 21 Sept. 2014.
“Daily Briefing Primer: ACA’s Medicaid Expansion.” Advisory.com. The Advisory Board Company, 03 May 2013. Web. 26 Sept. 2014.
Kenney, Genevieve M., Stephen Zuckerman, Lisa Dubay, Michael Huntress, Victoria Lynch, Jennifer Haley, and Nathaniel Anderson. “Opting in to the Medicaid Expansion under the ACA: Who Are the Uninsured Adults Who Could Gain Health Insurance Coverage.” Urban.org. The Urban Institute, Aug. 2012. Web. 21 Sept. 2014.
Evans, Marissa. “The Three Words That Shift Views On Medicaid.” Morning Consult. Morning Consult, 14 Sept. 2014. Web. 21 Sept. 2014.
Miller, Patrick R. “Tipsheet–Question Wording.” Duke.edu. Duke Initiative on Survey Methodology, n.d. Web. 21 Sept. 2014.